Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 41

Charles I, who succeeded his father James, was a prince whose personal qualities were excellent. It was said of him justly, that considered as a private gentleman, where was not a more honourable, virtuous, and religious man, in his dominions. He was a kind father, an indulgent master, and even too affectionate a husband, permitting the Queen Henrietta Maria, the beautiful daughter of Henry IV of France, to influence his government in a degree beyond her sphere. Charles possessed also the personal dignity which his father totally wanted; and there is no just occasion to question that so good a man as we have described him, had the intention to rule his people justly and mercifully, in place of enforcing the ancient feudal thraldom. But, on the other hand, he entertained extravagant ideas of the regal power, feelings which, being peculiarly unsuitable to the times in which he lived, occasioned his own total ruin, and, for a time, that of his posterity.

The English people had been now, for a century and more, relieved from the severe yoke of the nobles, and had forgotten how severely it had pressed upon their forefathers. What had galled them in the late reign, were the exactions of King James, who, to indulge his prodigal liberality to worthless favourites, had extorted from Parliament large supplies, and having misapplied these, had endeavoured to obtain others in an indirect and illegal manner by granting to individuals, for sums of money, exclusive rights to sell certain commodities, which the monopolist immediately raised to a high rate, and made a large fortune, while the King got little by the bribe which he had received, and the subjects suffered extremely by the price of articles, perhaps necessaries of life, being unduly advanced. Yet James, finding that a spirit of opposition had arisen within the House of Commons, and that pecuniary grants were obtained with difficulty, could not be induced to refrain from such indirect practices to obtain money from the people without the consent of their representatives in Parliament.

It was James’s object also to support the royal power in the full authority, which, by gradual encroachments, it had attained during the reign of the Tudors; and he was disposed to talk high of his prerogative, for which he stated himself to be accountable to God alone; whereas it was the just principle of the House of Commons, that the power of the King, like every other power in the constitution, was limited by the laws, and was liable to be legally resisted when it trespassed beyond them. Such were the disputes which James held with his subjects. His timidity prevented him from pushing his claims to extremity, and although courtly divines and ambitious lawyers were ready to have proved, as they pretended, his absolute and indefeasible right to obedience, even in unconstitutional commands, he shrunk from the contest, and left to his son the inheritance of much discontent which his conduct had excited, but which did not immediately break out in a flame.

Charles held the same opinions of his own rights as a monarch, which had been infused into him by his father’s instructions, and he was obstinate and persevering where James had been timid and flexible. Arbitrary courts of justice, particularly one termed the Star-chamber, afforded the King the means of punishing those who opposed themselves to the royal will; but the violent exertion of authority only increased the sense of the evil, and a general discontent against the King’s person and prerogative began to prevail throughout England.

These menacing appearances were much increased by religious motives. The Church of England had been since the Reformation gradually dividing into two parties, one of which, warmly approved of by King James, and yet more keenly patronised by Charles, was peculiarly attached to the rites and ceremonies of the church, the strict observance of particular forms of worship, and the use of certain pontifical dresses when divine service was performed. A numerous party, called the Puritans, although they complied with the model of the Church of England, considered these peculiar rites and formalities, on which the High Churchmen, as the opposite party began to be called, laid such stress, as remains of Popery, and things therefore to be abolished.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Laud, a man of talents and learning, was devotedly attached to the High Church interest, and, countenanced by Charles, he resolved to use all the powers, both of the civil and spiritual courts, to subdue the refractory spirit of the Puritans, and enforce their compliance with the ceremonies which he thought so essential to the well-being of the church. If men had been left to entertain calm and quiet thoughts on these points, they would in time have discovered, that, having chosen what was esteemed the most suitable rules for the national church, it would have been more wise and prudent to leave the consciences of the hearers to determine whether they would conform to them, or assemble for worship elsewhere. But prosecutions, fines, pillories, and imprisonments, employed to restrain religious opinions, only make them burn the more fiercely; and those who submitted to such suffering with patience, rather than renounce the doctrines they had espoused, were counted martyrs, and followed accordingly. These dissensions in church and state continued to agitate England from year to year;;but it was the disturbances in Scotland which brought them to a crisis.

The King had kept firmly in view his father’s favourite project of bringing the Church of Scotland, in point of church government and church ceremonies, to the same model with that of England. But to settle a national church, with a gradation of dignified clergy, required large funds, which Scotland could not afford for such a purpose. In this dilemma, the King and his counsellors resolved, by one sweeping act of revocation, to resume to the crown all the tithes and benefices which had been conferred upon laymen at the Reformation, and thus obtain the funds necessary to endow the projected bishoprics.

I must try to explain to you what tithes are: By the law delivered to the Hews, the tithes, that is the tenth part of the yearly produce of the land, whether in animals born on the soil, or in corn, fruit, and vegetable productions, were destined to the support of the priests, who performed the religious service in the Temple of Jerusalem. The same rule was adopted by the Christian Church, and the tithes were levied from the farmer or possessor of the land, for the maintainance of the ecclesiastical establishments. When the Reformation took place, the great nobles and gentry of Scotland got grants of these tithes from the crown, engaging to take upon themselves the support of the clergy, whom they paid at as low a rate as possible. Those nobles and gentry who held such gifts were called titulars of tithes, answering to the English phrase of impropriators. They used the privileges which they had acquired with great rigour. They would not suffer the farmer to lead a sheaf of corn from the field until the tithes had been selected and removed, and in this way exercised their right with far more severity than had been done by the Roman Catholic clergy, who usually accepted a certain reasonable sum of money, as a modification or composition for their claim, and thus left the proprietor of the crop to manage it as he would, instead of actually taking the tithes in kind. But the titulars, as they used their privilege with rigour and to the utmost, were equally tenacious in retaining it.

When assembled in Parliament, or, as it was termed, the Convention of Estates, the Scottish lords were possessed of grants of tithes determined that, rather than yield to the revocation proposed by the Earl of Nithsdale, who was the royal commissioner, they would massacre him and his adherents in the face of the assembly. This purpose was so decidedly entertained, that Lord Belhaven, and old blind man, placed himself close to the Earl of Dumfries, a supporter of the intended revocation, and keeping hold of his neighbour with one hand, for which he apologized, as being necessary to enable him to support himself, he held in the other the hilt of a dagger concealed in his bosom, that, as soon as the general signal should be given, hi might play his part in the tragedy by plunging it into Lord Dumfries’s heart. Nithsdale, learning something of this desperate resolution, gave the proposed measure of revocation up for the time, and returned to court.

The King, however, was at length able, by the assistance of a convention of the clergy summoned together by the bishops, and by the general clamour of the land-owners, who complained of the rigorous exactions of the titulars, to obtain a partial surrender of the tithes into the power of the crown. The power of the levying them in kind was suppressed; the landholder was invested with a right to retain every season’s tithe upon paying a modified sum, and to purchase the entire right from the titular (if he had the means to do so) at a rate of purchase restricted to seven years’ rent.

These alterations were attended with the greatest advantages to the country in process of time, but they were very offensive to the Scottish nobility, whom they deprived of valuable rights at an inadequate price.

Charles also made an attempt to reverse some of the attainders which had taken place in his father’s time, particularly that of Stewart, Earl of Bothwell. Much of this turbulent nobleman’s forfeited property had fallen to the lot of the Lords of Buccleuch and Cessford, who were compelled to surrender a part of their spoils. These proceedings, as well as the revocation of the grants of tithes, highly irritated the Scottish nobility, and some wild proposals were held among them for dethroning Charles, and placing the Marquis of Hamilton on the throne.

The only remarkable consequence of this intrigue, was a trial in the long forgotten Court of Chivalry, the last, it may be supposed, that will ever take place. Donald Lord Reay affirmed, that Mr David Ramsay had used certain treasonable expressions in his, the said Donald’s hearing. Both were summoned to appear before the High Constable of England. They appeared accordingly, in great pomp, attended by their friends.

“Lord Reay,” says an eyewitness, “was clothed in black velvet, embroidered with silver, carried his sword in a silver embroidered belt, and wore around his neck his badge as a Baronet of Nova Scotia. He was a tall, back, swarthy man, of a portly and stout demeanour.” The defender was next ushered in, a fair man, and having a head of ruddy hair so bushy and long, that he was usually termed Ramsay Redhead. He was dressed in scarlet so richly embroidered with gold, that the cloth could scarcely be discerned, but he was totally unarmed. While they fixed their eyes on each other sternly, the charge was read, stating that Ramsay, the defendant, had urged him, Lord Reay, to engage in a conspiracy for dethroning the King, and placing the Marquis of Hamilton upon the throne. He added, that if Ramsay should deny this, he would prove him a villain and a traitor by dint of sword. Ramsay, for answer, called Reay “a liar and a barbarous villain, and protested he should die for it.” They exchanged gloves. After many delays, the Court named a day of combat, assigning as the weapons to be used, a spear, a long sword, and a short sword or a dagger. The most minute circumstances were arranged, and provision was even made at what time the parties might have the assistance of armourers and tailors, with hammers, nails, files, scissors, bodkins, needles, and thread. But now, when you a re perhaps expecting, with curiosity, a tale of a bloody fight, I have to acquaint you that the King forbade the combat, and the affair was put to sleep. Times were greatly changed since the days when almost every species of accusation might be tried in this manner.

Charles visited his native country of Scotland in 1633, for the purpose of being crowned. He was received by the people at first with great apparent affection; but discontent arose on its being observed, that he omitted no opportunity of pressing upon the bishops, who had hitherto only worn plain black gowns, the use of the more splendid vestments of the English Church. This alteration of habit grievously offended the Presbyterians, who saw in it a farther approximation to the Romish ritual; while the nobility, remembering that they had been partly deprived of their tithes, sand that their possession of the church lands was in danger, saw with great pleasure the obnoxious prelates, for whose sake the revocation had been made, incur the odium of the people at large.

It was left for Archbishop Laud to bring all this slumbering discontent into action, by an attempt to introduce into the divine service of the Church of Scotland a Form of Common Prayer and Liturgy similar to that used in England. This, however reasonable an institution in itself, was at variance with the character of Presbyterian worship, in which the clergyman always addressed the Deity in extemporaneous prayer, and in no prescribed, or regular form of words. King James himself, when courting the favour of the Presbyterian party, had called the English service an ill-mumbled mass; forgetting that the objection to the mass applies, not to the prayers, which must be excellent, since they are chiefly extracted from Scripture, but to the worship of the Eucharist, which Protestants think idolatrous, and to the service being in a foreign language. Neither of these objections applies to the English form of prayer; but the expression of the King was not forgotten, and he was reminded of it far more frequently than was agreeable to him.

Upon the whole, this new and most obnoxious change in the form of public worship, throughout Scotland, where the nobility were known to be in a state of great discontent, was very ill-timed. Right or wrong, the people in general were prejudiced against this innovation, in a matter so serious as the form of devotion; and yet, such a change was to be attempted, without any other authority than that of the King and the bishops; while both the Parliament, and a General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, had a right to be consulted in a matter so important. Nor is it less extraordinary that the Government seems to have been totally unprovided with any sufficient force to overcome the opposition which was most certain to take place.

The rash and fatal experiment was made, 23rth July, 1637, in the High Church of St. Giles, Edinburgh, where the dean of the city prepared to read the new service before a numerous concourse of persons, none of whom seem to have been favourably disposed to its reception. As the reader of the prayers announced the Collect for the day, an old woman, named Jenny Geddes, who kept a green stall in the High Street, bawled out — “The deil colick in the wame of thee, thou false thief! dost thou say the mass at my lug?” With that she flung at the dean’s head the stool upon which she had been sitting, and a wild tumult instantly commenced. The women of lower condition [instigated, it is said, by their superiors] flew at the dean, tore the surplice from his shoulders, and drove him out of the church. The Bishop of Edinburgh mounted the pulpit, but he was also assailed with missiles, and with vehement exclamations of “A Pope! a Pope! Antichrist! pull him down, stone him!” while the windows were broken with stones flung by a disorderly multitude from without. This was not all: the prelates were assaulted in the street, and misused by the mob. The life of the bishop was with difficulty saved by Lord Roxburghe, who carried him home in his carriage, surrounded by his retinue with drawn swords.

This tumult, which has now something ludicrous in its details, was the signal for a general resistance to the reception of the Service-book throughout the whole country. The Privy Council of Scotland were lukewarm, or rather cold, in the cause. They wrote to Charles a detailed account of the tumults, and did not conceal, that the opposition to the measure was spreading far and wide.

Charles was inflexible in his purpose, and so greatly incensed that he showed his displeasure even in trifles. It was the ancient custom, to have a fool, or jester, maintained at court, privileged to break his satirical jests at random. The post was then held by one Archie Armstrong, who, as he saw the Archbishop of Canterbury posting to court, in consequence of the mortifying tidings from Scotland, could not help whispering in the prelate’s ear the sly question, “Who’s fool now, my lord?” For this jest, poor Archie, having been first severely whipped, was disgraced and dismissed from court, where no fool has again been admitted, at least in an avowed and official capacity.

But Archie was a more accessible object of punishment than the malecontents in Scotland. It was in vain that Charles sent down repeated and severe messages, blaming the Privy Council, the Magistrates, and all who did not punish the rioters, and enforce the reading of the Service-book. The resistance to the measure, which was at first tumultuous, and the work of the lower orders, had now assumed quality and consistency. More than thirty peers, and a very great proportion of the gentry of Scotland, together with the greater part of the royal burghs, had, before the month of December, agreed not merely to oppose the Service-book, but to act together in resisting the further intrusions of Prelacy. They were kept in union and directed by representatives appointed from among themselves, and forming separate Committees, or, as they were termed, Tables or Boards of management.

Under the auspices of these Tables, or Committees, a species of engagement, or declaration, was drawn up, the principal object of which was, the eradication of Prelacy in all its modifications, and the establishment of presbytery on its purest and most simple basis. This engagement was called the National Covenant, as resembling those covenants which, in the Old Testament, God is said to have made with the people of Israel. The terms of this memorable league professed the Reformed faith, and abjured the rites and doctrines of the Romish Church, with which were classed the newly imposed Liturgy and Canons. This covenant, which had for its object to annul all of prelatic innovation that James’s policy, and his son’s violence, had been able to introduce into the Presbyterian Church, was sworn to by hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands, of every age and description, vowing, with uplifted hands and weeping eyes, that, with the Divine assistance, they would dedicate life and fortune to maintain the object of their solemn engagement. (1st March, 1638)

Undoubtedly, many persons who thus subscribed the National Covenant, did not seriously feel any apprehension that Prelacy would introduce Popery, or that the Book of Common Prayer was in itself a grievance which the people of Scotland did well or wisely to oppose; but they were convinced, that in thus forcing a matter of conscience upon a whole nation, the King disregarded the rights and liberties of his subjects, and foresaw, that if not now withstood, he was most likely to make himself absolute master of their rights and privileges in secular as well as religious affairs. They therefore joined in such measures as procured a general resistance to the arbitrary power so rashly assumed by King Charles.

Mean time, while King negotiated and procrastinated, Scotland, though still declaring attachment to his person, was nearly in a state of general resistance.

The Covenanters, as they began to be called, held a General Assembly of the Church, at which the Marquis of Hamilton attended as Lord Commissioner for the King. This important meeting was held at Glasgow.(21st Nov. 1638) There all the measures pointed at by the Covenant were carried fully into effect. Episcopacy was abolished, the existing bishops were deprived of their power, and eight of them excommunicated for divers alleged irregularities.

The Covenanters took arms to support these bold measures. They recalled to Scotland the numerous officers who had been trained in the wars of Germany, and committed the command of the whole to Alexander Lesley, a veteran general of skill and experience, who had possessed the friendship of Gustavus Adolphus. They soon made great progress; for the castles of Edinburgh, Dalkeith, and other national fortresses, were treacherously surrendered to, or daringly surprised, by the Covenanters.

King Charles, mean time, was preparing for the invasion of Scotland with a powerful army by land and sea. The fleet was commanded by the Marquis of Hamilton, who, unwilling to commence a civil war, or, as some supposed, not being on this occasion peculiarly zealous in the King’s service, made no attempt to prosecute the enterprise. The fleet lay idle in the frith of Forth, while Charles in person, at the head of an army of twenty-three thousand men, gallantly equipped by the English nobility, seemed as much determined upon the subjugation of his ancient kingdom of Scotland, as ever any of the Edwards or Henrys of England had been. But the Scottish Covenanters showed the same determined spirit of resistance, which, displayed by their ancestors, had frustrated so many invasions, and it was now mingled with much political discretion.

A great degree of military discipline had been introduced into the Scottish levies, considering how short time they had been on foot. They lay encamped on Dunse Law, a gently sloping hill, very favourable for a military display. Their camp was defended by forty field-pieces, and their army consisted of twenty-four or twenty-five thousand men. The highest Scottish nobles, as Argyle, Rothes, Cassilis, Eglinton, Dalhousie, Lindsay, Loudoun, Balcarras, and others, acted as colonels; their captains were gentlemen of high rank and fortune; and the inferior commissions were chiefly bestowed on veteran officers who had served abroad. The utmost order was observed in their camp, while the presence of numerous clergymen kept up the general enthusiasm, and seemed to give a religious character to the war.

In this crisis, when a decisive battle was to have been expected, only one very slight action took place, when a few English cavalry, retreating hastily, and in disorder, from a still smaller number of Scots, seemed to show that the invaders had not their hearts engaged in the combat.(3rd June 1639) The King was surrounded by many counsellors, who had no interest to encourage the war; and the whole body of English Puritans considered the resistance of Scotland as the triumph of the good cause over Popery and Prelacy. Charles’s own courage seems to have failed him, at the idea of encountering a force so well provided, and so enthusiastic, as that of the covenanters, with a dispirited army acting under divided councils. A treaty was entered into, though of an insecure character. The King granted a declaration, in which, without confirming the acts of the Assembly of Glasgow, which he would not acknowledge as a lawful one, he agreed that all matters concerning the regulation of church-government should be left to a new Convocation of the Church.

Such an agreement could not be lasting. The Covenanting Lords did, indeed, disband their forces, and restore to the King’s troops the strong places which they had occupied; but they held themselves ready to take arms, and seize upon them again, on the slightest notice; neither was the King able to introduce any considerable degree of disunion into so formidable a league.

The General Assembly of the Church, convened according to the treaty, failed not to confirm all that had been done by their predecessors at Glasgow; the National Covenant was renewed, and the whole conclusions of the body were in favour of pure and unmingled Presbytery. The Scottish Parliament, on their part, demanded several privileges, necessary, it was said, to freedom of debate, and required that the Estates of the kingdom should be convened at least once every three years. On receiving these demands, Charles thought he beheld a formed scheme for undermining his royal authority, and prepared to renew the war.

His determination involved, however, consequences more important than even the war with Scotland. His private economy had enabled the King to support, from the crown lands and other funds, independent of parliamentary grants, the ordinary expenses of the state, and he had been able even to sustain the charges of the first army raised to invade Scotland, without having recourse to the House of Commons. But this treasures were now exhausted, and it became indispensable to convoke a parliament, and obtain from the Commons a grant of money to support the war. The Parliament met, but were too much occupied by their own grievances, to take an immediate interest in the Scottish war, which they only viewed as affording a favourable opportunity for enforcing their own objects. They refused the supplies demanded. The King was obliged to dissolve them, and have recourse to the aid of Ireland, to the convocation of the Church, to compulsory loans, and other indirect methods of raising money, so that his resources were exhausted by the effort.

On hearing that the King was again collecting his army, and had placed himself at its head, the Parliament of Scotland resolved on reassembling theirs. It was done with such facility, and so speedily, that it was plain they had been, during the short suspension of arms, occupied in preparing for a new rupture. They did not now wait till the King should invade Scotland, but boldly crossed the Tweed, entered England, and advancing to the banks of the Tyne, found Lord Conway posted at Newburn, with six thousand men, having batteries of cannon in his front, and prepared to dispute the passage of the river. On 28th August, 1640, the battle of Newburn was fought. The Scots, after silencing the artillery by their superior fire, entered the ford, girdle deep, and made their way across the river. The English fled with a speed and disorder unworthy of their national reputation.

The King, surprised at this defeat, and justly distrusting the faith of many who were in his army and near his person, directed his forces to retreat into Yorkshire, where he had arrived in person; and again, with more serious intentions of abiding by it, commenced a negotiation with his insurgent subjects. At the same time, to appease the growing discontent of the English nation, he resolved again to call a Parliament. There were, no doubt, in the royal camp, many persons to whom the presence of a Scottish army was acceptable, as serving to overawe the more violent royalists; and the Scots were easily induced to protract their stay, when it was proposed to them to receive pay and provisions at the expense of England.

The meeting of that celebrated body called, in English history, the Long Parliament, took place on 3d November, 1640. The majority of the members were disaffected with the King’s government, on account of his severity in matters of religion, and his tendency to despotism in state affairs. These malcontents formed a strong party, determined to diminish the royal authority, and reduce, if not altogether to destroy, the hierarchy of the church. The negotiations for peace being transferred from Rippon to London, the presence of the Scottish commissioners was highly acceptable to those statesmen who opposed the King; and the preaching of the clergymen by whom they were accompanied, appeared equally instructive to the citizens of London and their wives.

In this favourable situation, and completely successful over the royal will (for Charles I could not propose to contend at once with the English Parliament and with the Scottish army), the peremptory demands of the Scots were neither light, nor easily gratified. They required that the King should confirm every act of the Scottish Convention of Estates with which he had been at war, recall all the proclamations which he had sent out against them, place the fortresses of Scotland in the hands of such officers as the Convention should approve of, pay all the expenses of the war, and, last and bitterest, they stipulated, that those of the King’s counsellors who had advised the late hostilities, should be punished as incendiaries. While the Scots were discussing these severe conditions, they remained in their quarters in England much at their ease, overawing by their presence the King, and those who might be disposed to join him, and affording to the opposition party in the English Parliament an opportunity of obtaining redress for the grievances of which they, in their turn, complained.

The King, thus circumstanced, was compelled to give way. The oppressive courts in which arbitrary proceedings had taken place, were abolished; every species of contrivance by which Charles had endeavoured to levy money without consent of Parliament, a subject on which the people of England were justly jealous, was declared unlawful; and it was provided, that Parliaments should be summoned every three years.

Thus the power of the King was reduced within the boundaries of the constitution: but the Parliament were not satisfied with this general redress of grievances, though including all that had hitherto been openly complained of. A strong party among the members was determined to be satisfied with nothing short of the abolition of Episcopacy in England as well as in Scotland; and many, who did not aim at that favourite point, entertained fears, that if the King were left in possession of such powers as the constitution allowed him, he would find means of reestablishing and perpetuating the grievances which, for the time, he had consented to abolish.

Gratified with a donation of three hundred thousand pounds, given under the delicate name of brotherly assistance, the Scottish army at length retired homeward, and left the King and Parliament of England to settle their own affairs. The troops had scarcely returned to Scotland and disbanded, when Charles proposed to himself a visit to his native kingdom. He arrived in Scotland on the 12th of August, 1641. There can be little doubt that the purpose of this royal progress was to enquire closely into the cause which had enabled the Scottish nation, usually divided into factions and quarrels, to act with such unanimity, and to try whether it might not be possible for the King to attach to his royal interest and person some of the principal leaders, and thus form a part who might not only prevent his English dominions from being again invaded by an army form Scotland, but might be disposed to serve him in case he should come to an open rupture with his English Parliament. For this purpose he dispensed dignities and gifts in Scotland with an unsparing hand; made General Lesley Earl Leven, raised the Lords Loudon and Lindsay to the same rank, and received into his administration several nobles who had been active in the late invasion of England. On most of these person, the King’s benefits produced little effect. They considered him only as giving what, if he had dared, he would have withheld. But Charles made a convert to his interests of one nobleman, whose character and actions have rendered him a memorable person in Scottish history.

This was James Graham, earl of Montrose; a man of high genius, glowing with the ambition which prompts great actions, and conscious of courage and talents which enabled him to aspire to much by small and inadequate means. He was a poet and a scholar, deeply skilled in the art of war, and possessed of a strength of constitution and activity of mind, by which he could sustain every hardship, and find a remedy in every reverse of fortune. It was remarked of him by Cardinal du Retz, an unquestionable judge, that he resembled more nearly than any man of his age those great heroes, whose names and history are handed down to us by the Greek and Roman historians. As a qualification to this high praise, it must be added, that Montrose’s courage sometimes approached to rashness, and that some of his actions arose more from the dictates of private revenge, than became his nobler qualities.

The young earl had attended the court of Charles when he came home from his travels, but not meeting with the attention or distinction which he was conscious of deserving, he withdrew into Scotland, and took a zealous share in forming and forwarding the National Covenant. A man of such talent could not fail to be employed and distinguished. Montrose was sent by the confederated lords of the Covenant to chastise the prelatic town of Aberdeen, and to disperse the Gordons, who were taking arms for the King under the Marquis of Huntly, and succeeded in both commissions. When the army of the Scottish Parliament entered England, he was the first man who forded the Tweed. He passed alone under the fire of the English, to ascertain the depth of the water, and returned to lead over the regiment which he commanded. Notwithstanding these services to the cause of the Covenant, Montrose had the mortification to see that the Earl of Argyle (the ancient feudal enemy of his house) was preferred to him by the heads of the party, and chiefly by the clergy. There was something in the fiery ambition, and unyielding purpose of Montrose, which startled inferior minds; while Argyle, dark, close, and crafty — a man well qualified to affect a complete devotion to the ends of others, when he was, in fact, bent on forwarding his won, — stooped lower to court popularity, and was more successful in gaining it.

The King had long observed that Montrose was dissatisfied with the party to which he had hitherto adhered, and found no difficulty in engaging his services for the future in the royal cause. The noble convert set so actively about inducing others to follow his example, that even during the course of the treaty at Rippon, he had procured the subscription of nineteen noblemen to a bond, engaging themselves to unite in support of Charles. This act of defection being discovered by the Covenanters, Montrose was imprisoned; and the King, on coming to Scotland, had the mortification to find himself deprived of the assistance of this invaluable adherent.

Montrose contrived, however, to communicate with the King from his prison in the castle of Edinburgh, and disclosed so many circumstances respecting the purposes of the Marquis of Hamilton and the Earl of Argyle, that Charles had resolved to arrest them both at one moment, and had assembled soldiers for that purpose. They escaped, however, and retired to their houses, where they could not have been seized, but by open violence, and at the risk of a civil war. These noblemen were recalled to court; and to show that the King’s confidence in them was unchanged, Argyle was raised to the rank of marquis. This obscure affair was called the Incident; it was never well explained, but at the time excited much suspicion of the King’s purposes both in England and Scotland, and aggravated the disinclination of the English Parliament to leave his royal power on the present unreduced footing.

There can be little doubt that Montrose’s disclosures to the King concerned the private correspondence which passed between the Scottish Covenanters and the Opposition party in the Parliament of England, and which Charles might hope to convert into an accusation of high treason against both. But as he did not feel that he possessed a party in Scotland strong enough to contend with the great majority of the nobles of that country, he judged it best to pass over all further notice of the Incident for the time, and to leave Scotland under the outward appearance at least of mutual concord. He was formally congratulated on departing a contented king from a contented people — a state of things, which did not last long.

It was, indeed, impossible that Scotland should remain long tranquil, while England, with whom she was now so closely connected, was in such dreadful disorder. The King had no sooner returned from Scotland, than the quarrel betwixt him and his Parliament was renewed with more violence than ever. If either party could have reposed confidence in the other’s sincerity, the concessions made by the King were such as ought to have gratified the Parliament. But the strongest suspicions were entertained by the prevailing party, that the King considered the grants which he had made, as having been extorted from him by violence, and that he retained the steady purpose of reassuming, in its full extent, the obnoxious and arbitrary power of which he had been deprived for a season, but which he still considered as part of his royal right. They therefore resolved not to quit the ascendency which they had attained, until they had deprived the King, for a season at least, of a large portion of his remaining prerogative, although bestowed on him by the constitution, that they might thus prevent his employing it for the recovery of those arbitrary privileges which had been usurped by the throne during the reign of the Tudors.

While the Parliamentary leaders argued thus, the King, on his side, complained that no concession, however large, was found adequate to satisfy the demands of his discontented subjects. “He had already,” he urged, “resigned all the points which had been disputed between them, yet they continued as ill satisfied as before.” On these grounds the partisans of the Crown were alarmed with the idea that it was the purpose of Parliament altogether to abrogate the royal authority, or at least to depose the reigning King.

On the return of Charles to London, the Parliament greeted him with a remonstrance, in which he was upbraided with all the real and supposed errors of his reign..(25th Nov.) At the same time, a general disposition to tumult showed itself throughout the city. Great mobs of apprentices and citizens, not always of the lowest rank, came in tumult to Westminster, under the pretence of petitioning the Houses of Parliament; and as they passed Whitehall, they insulted, with loud shouts, the guards and servants of the King. The parties soon came to blows, and blood was spilt between them.

Party names, too, were assumed to distinguish the friends of the King from those who favoured the Parliament. The former were chiefly gay young men, who, according to the fashion of the times, wore showy dresses, and cultivated the growth of long hair, which, arranged in ringlets, fell over their shoulders. They were called Cavaliers. In distinction, those who adhered to the Parliament, assumed, in their garb and deportment, a seriousness and gravity which rejected all ornament. They were their hair, in particular, cropped short around the head, and thence gained the name of Roundheads.

But it was the difference in their ideas of religious, or rather of church government, which chiefly widened the division betwixt the two parties. The King had been bred up to consider the preservation of the Church of England and her hierarchy, as a sacred point of his royal duty, since he was recognised by the constitution as its earthly head and superintendent. The Presbyterian system, on the contrary, was espoused by a large proportion of the Parliament; and they were, for the time, seconded by the other numerous classes of Dissenters, all of whom desired to see the destruction of the Church of England, however unwilling they might be, in their secret mind, that a Presbyterian church government should be set up in its stead. The enemies of the English hierarchy greatly predominating within the Houses of Parliament, the lords spiritual, or bishops, were finally expelled from their seats in the House of Lords, and their removal was celebrated as a triumph by the London citizens.

While matters were in this state, the King committed a great imprudence. Having conceived that he had acquired from Montrose’s discovery, or otherwise, certain information that five of the leading members of the House of Commons had been guilty of holding such intimate communication with the Scots when in arms, as might authorize a charge of high treason against them, he formed the highly rash and culpable intention of going to the House of Commons in person, with an armed train of attendants, and causing the accused members to be arrested. By this ill-advised measure, Charles doubtless expected to strike terror into the opposite party; but it proved altogether ineffectual. The five members had received private information of the blow to be aimed at them, and had fled into the City, where they found numbers willing to conceal, or defend them. The King, by his visit to the House of Commons, only showed that he could stoop to act almost in the capacity of a common constable, or catchpole; and that he disregarded the respect due to the representatives of the British people, in meditating such an arrest of their members in the presence of that body.

After this very rash step on the part of the King, every chance of reconciliation seemed at an end. The Commons rejected all amicable proposals, unless the King would surrender to them, for a time at least, the command of the militia or armed force of the kingdom; and that would have been equivalent to laying his crown at their feet. The King refused to surrender the command of the militia, even for an instant; and both parties prepared to take up arms. Charles left London, where the power of the Parliament was predominant, assembled what friends he could gather at Nottingham, and hoisted the royal standard there, as the signal of civil war, on 25th August, 1642.

The hostilities which ensued, over almost all England, were of a singular character. Long accustomed to peace, the English had but little knowledge of the art of war. The friends of the contending parties assembled their followers, and marched against each other, without much idea of taking strong position, or availing themselves of able manoeuvres, but with the simple and downright purpose of meeting, fighting with, and defeating those who were in arms on the other side. These battles were contested with great manhood and gallantry, but with little military skill or discipline. It was no uncommon thing, for one wing or division of the contending armies, when they found themselves victorious over the body opposed to them, to amuse themselves with chasing the vanquished part for leagues off the field of battle where the victory was in the mean while list for want of their support. This repeatedly happened through the precipitation of the King’s cavalry; a fine body of men, consisting of the flower of the English nobility and gentry; but as ungovernable as they were valorous, and usually commanded by Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew, a young man of fiery courage, not gifted with prudence corresponding to his bravery and activity.

In these unhappy civil contentions, the ancient nobility and gentry of England were chiefly disposed to the service of the King; and the farmers and cultivators of the soil followed them as their natural leaders. The cause of the Parliament was supported by London, with all its wealth and its numbers, and by the other large towns, seaports, and manufacturing districts, throughout the country. At the commencement of the war, the Parliament, being in possession of most of the fortified places in England, with the magazines of arms and ammunition which they contained, having also numbers of men prepared to obey their summons, and with power to raise large sums of money to pay them seemed to possess great advantages over the party of Charles. But the gallantry of the King’s followers was able to restore the balance, and proposal were made for peace on equal terms, which, had all parties been as sincere in seeking it, as the good and wise of each side certainly were, might then have been satisfactorily concluded.

A treaty was set on foot at Oxford in the winter and spring of 1643, and the Scottish Parliament sent to England a committee of the persons employed as conservators of the peace between the kingdoms, to negotiate, if possible, a pacification between the King and his Parliament, honourable for the crown, satisfactory for the liberty of the subject, and secure for both. But the King listened to the warmer and more passionate counsellors, who pointed out to him that the Scots would, to a certainty, do their utmost to root out Prelacy in any system of accommodation which they might assist in framing; and that having, in fact, been the first who had set the example of a successful resistance to the Crown, they could not now be expected to act as friends to the King in any negotiation in which his prerogative was concerned. The result was, that the Scottish Commissioners, finding themselves treated with coldness by the King, and with menace and scorn by the more vehement of his followers, left Oxford still more displeased with the Royal cause than they were when they had come thither.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00