« PreviousContinue »
ci^AP. A Little before the commencement of this v^,.^/ fruitless treaty, a deed was executed by the parlia1645. ment, which proved their determined resolution to yield nothing, but to proceed in the same violent and imperiqus manner with which they at Erst enExecution tered on these dangerous enterprises. Archbishop of Land. Laiio^ the most favourite minister of the king, was brought to the scaffold; and in this instance the public might see, that popular assemblies, as, by their very number, they are, in a great measure, exempt from the restraint of shame, so, when they also overleap the bounds of law, naturally break out into acts of the greatest tyranny and injustice.
From the time that Laud had been committed, the house of commons, engaged in enterprises of greater moment, had found no leisure to finish his impeachment; and he had patiently endured so long an imprisonment without being brought to any trial. After the union with Scotland, the bigoted prejudices of that nation revived the like spirit in England; and the sectaries resolved to gratify their vengeance in the punishment of this prelate, who had so long, by his authority, and by the execution of penal laws, kept their zealous spirit under confinement. He was accused of high treason in endeavouring to subvert the fundamental laws, and of other high crimes and misdemeanours. The same illegality of an accumulative crime and a constructive evidence, which appeared in the case of Strafford; the same violence and iniquity in conducting the trial; are conspicuous throughout the whole course of this prosecution. The groundless charge of popery, though belied by his whole life and conduct, was continually urged against the prisoner; and every error rendered unpardonable by this imputation, which was supposed to imply the height of all enormities. "This man, my lords," said serjeant Wilde, concluding his long speech against him, ** is like Naaman the Syrian; a great man, but a C Ha P. "leper. y^v
We shall not enter into a detail of this matter, KM. which, at present, seems to admit of little controversy. It suffices to say, that, after a long trial, and the examination of above a hundred and fifty witnesses, the commons found so little likelihood of obtaining a judicial sentence against Laud, that they were obliged to have recourse to their legislative authority, and to pass an ordinance for taking away the life of this aged prelate. Notwithstanding the low condition into which the house of peers was fallen, there appeared some intention of rejecting this ordinance; and the popular leaders were again obliged to apply to the multitude, and to extinguish, by threats of new tumults, the small remains of liberty possessed by the upper-house. Seven peers alone voted in this important question. The rest, either from shame or fear, took care to absent themselves.0
Laud, who had behaved during his trial with spirit and vigour of genius, sunk not under the horrors of his execution; but though he had usually professed himself apprehensive of a violent death, he found all his fears to be dissipated before that superior courage by which he was animated. "No one," said he, "can be more willing to send me out of life, than I "am desirous to go." Even upon the scaffold, and during the intervals of his prayers, he was harrassed and molested by sir John Clotworthy, a zealot of the reigning sect, and a great leader in the lower house: This was the time he chose for examining the principles of the dying prelate, and trepanning him into a confession, that he trusted for his salvation to the merits of good works, not to the death of the Redeemer." Having extricated himself from these theological toils, the archbishop laid his head on the block; and it was severed from the body at one
■ Rush. vol. vi. p. 830. » Warwie, p. 169.
» Rush. vol. vi. p. 838, 839.
Chap- blow.* Those religious opinions, for which he sufv^^, fered, contributed no doubt, to the courage and coni645. stancy of his end. Sincere he undoubtedly was, and, however misguided, actuated by pious motives in all his pursuits; and it is to be regretted, that a man of such spirit, who conducted his enterprizes with so much warmth and industry, had not entertained more enlarged views, and embraced principles more favourable to the general happiness of society.
The great and important advantage which the party gained by Strafford's death "may, in some degree^palliate the iniquity of the sentence pronounced against him: But the execution of this old infirm prelate, who had so long remained an inoffensive prisoner, can be ascribed to nothing but vengeance and bigotry in those severe religionists, by whom the parliament was entirely governed. That he deserved a better fate was not questioned by any reasonable man: The degree of his merit, in other respects, was disputed. Some accused him of recommending slavish doctrines, of promoting persecution, and of encouraging superstition; while others thought that his conduct, in these three particulars, would admit of apology and extenuation.
That the letter of the law, as much as the most flaming court-sermon, inculcates passive obedience, is apparent: And though the spirit of a limited government seems to require, in extraordinary cases, some mitigation of so rigorous a doctrine; it must be confessed, that the preceding genius of the English constitution had rendered a mistake in this particular very natural and excusable. To inflict death, at least on those who depart from the exact line of truth in these nice questions, so far from being favourable to national liberty, savours strongly of the spirit of tyranny and proscription.
« 12th of July 1844.
Toleration had hitherto been so little the prin- Chap. ciple of any Christian sect, that even the catholics, ^J^V, the remnant of the religion professed by their fore- ^45. fathers, could not obtain from the English the least indulgence. This very house of commons, in their famous remonstrance, took care to justify themselves, as from the highest imputation, from any intention to relax the golden reins of discipline, as they called them, or to grant any toleration :r And the enemies of the church were so fair from the beginning, as not to lay claim to liberty of conscience, which they called a toleration for soul-murder. They openly challenged the superiority, and even menaced the established church with that persecution which they afterwards exercised against her with such severity. And if the question be considered in the view of policy; though a sect, already formed and advanced, may, with good reason, demand a toleration; what title had the puritans to this indulgence, who were just on the point of separation from the church, and whom, it might be hoped, some wholesome and legal severities would still retain in obedience?
Whatever ridicule, to a philosophical mind, may be thrown on pious ceremonies, it must be confessed,that, during a very religious age, no institutions can be more advantageous to the rude multitude, and tend more to mollify that fierce and gloomy spirit of devotion, to which they are subject. Even the English church, though it had retained a share of popish ceremonies, may justly be thought too naked and unadorned, and still to approach too near the abstract and spiritual religion of the puritans. Laud and his associates, by reviving a few primitive institutions of this nature, corrected the error of the first reformers, and presented to the affrightened and astonished mind, some sensible, exterior observances, which might occupy it during its religious exercises, and
r Nalson, vol. ii. p. 705.
* See note [A] at the end of the volume.
p- abate the violence of its disappointed efforts. The thought, no longer bent on that divine and mysterious essence, so superior to the narrow capacities of mankind, was able, by means of the new model of devotion, to relax itself in the contemplation of pictures, postures, vestments, buildings; and all the fine arts, which minister to religion, thereby received additional encouragement. The primate, it is true, conducted this scheme, not with the enlarged sentiments and cool reflection of a legislator, but with the intemperate zeal of a sectary; and by overlooking the circumstances of the times, served rather to inflame that religious fury which he meant to repress. But this blemish is more to be regarded as a general imputation on the whole age, than any particular failing of Laud's; and it is sufficient for his vindication to observe, that his errors were the most excusable of all those which prevailed during that zealous period.