Peers, the closet for the King and royal family, the galleries for the House of Commons, the seats for the Scottish Commissioners and the deputation from the Irish parliament, and, above all, the crowds that were to assemble, and the cries for vengeance that had already been uttered in the streets,-his heart entirely failed him, and a real illness afterwards came on, which confined him for some weeks to his bed.

Before he would acknowledge that he had recovered, Strafford, by an unparalleled display of constancy and talent,-without professional assistance, and three nations marshalled against him, had defeated the proceeding by impeachment. A bill of attainder had been brought in to put him to death without the forms of justice; the Judges now yielding to popular, as they formerly did to royal intimidation, had iniquitously pronounced that the charges against him amounted in point of law to high treason; amidst the apprehension of new plots against the nation, the Bill had rapidly passed both Houses; the King's scruples had been overcome by the solicitations of the Queen and the sophistry of the Bishops; and the noble victim, after exclaiming, "Put not your trust in princes," had met his fate with such courage and composure as to enlist all sympathy in his favour, and to make his name respected by posterity, although having been once the champion of public rights, he had long systematically laboured to subvert the liberties of his country.

[ocr errors]

After Strafford's execution, Littleton resumed his place on the woolsack; but he offered no resistance to any of the bills which came up from the Commons. He was well justified in agreeing to those for abolishing the High Commission Court and the Star Chamber. He proposed an amendment to that for preventing a dissolution without the consent of the two Houses,--that it should be in force only for three years,-by the end of which time it might be expected that the reformation of the state would be completed; but this being objected to by the Commons, he withdrew it, and Charles was virtually dethroned.

At last there was some respite from these troubles, the two Houses having adjourned while the King went [AUGUST 1641.] on a visit to Scotland, and Littleton was allowed to enjoy repose at his villa at Cranfield.

Meanwhile the Irish rebellion broke out; the alarm of a counterrevolution by a Roman Catholic force was un[OCTOBER 1641.] iversally spread, and parliament again meeting, measures were proposed by the popular leaders inconsistent with monarchical government. None of these had the Lord Keeper the spirit to resist. His excuse was, that he cultivated the goodwill of the republican party so that he might be able more effectually to serve the King. He might have stopped the bill for turning the Bishops out of the House of Lords, by insisting on the objection that a bill to the same effect had been rejected during the same session; but yielding to the clamour of the mob, he voted for it, and agreed in advising the King to assent to it.

[ocr errors]

He then suddenly took another turn, which was still more fatal to the royal cause. The Queen, the ladies of the court, and Lord Digby, resolved that they would [JAN. 3. 1642.] put down the movement by a display of vigour, and that the prosecutors of Strafford should share his fate. A charge of high treason was to be suddenly brought against Lord Kimbolton, Pym, Denzill Hollis, Sir Arthur Hazelrig, Hampden, and Strode, upon which they were to be committed to prison, and it was thought that the disaffected, thus deprived of their leaders, would instantly become powerless. The charge was to be made-not by indictment before a grand jury, or by the impeachment of the Commons, but by the Attorney General ex officio in the House of Lords.

When this scheme was disclosed to the Lord Keeper, he must have seen the madness of it. As a lawyer, he must have known that the House of Lords had no jurisdiction to try Commoners for a capital offence; and that the Attorney General had no power to originate such a prosecution.* As a man of sense and observation, he must have been aware that the House of Commons and the public would not allow such a prosecution to proceed; and that the attempt would only add to the popular excitement, and prevent all chance of reaction. But finding that the King was strongly bent upon it, he had not the courage to oppose it; and he communicated a royal message to the Lords, "that the Attorney General, by the King's special command, was to lay before them a charge, for high treason, against one member of that House and five members of the other House of Parliament." Herbert, the Attorney General, who had ceased to be a member of the House of Commons, and had taken his seat in the House of Lords under his writ of summons as an assistant, then rose from the Judges' woolsack where he had been placed, and standing at the clerk's table, said “that the King had commanded him to tell their Lordships that great and treasonable designs and practices against him and the state had come to his Majesty's knowledge; for which the King had given him command to accuse six persons of his treason, and other high misdemeanours, by delivering the articles in writing, which he had in his hand, which he received from his Majesty, and was commanded to desire their Lordships to hear


[ocr errors]

The articles being read, they were found to charge the accused with subverting the fundamental laws of the kingdom,-with attempting to alienate the affections of the people from the King,with sowing disaffection in the army,—with inviting the Scots to invade England,-with endeavouring to overturn the rights and being of parliaments,-with exciting tumults,—and with conspiring to levy war against the King. Mr. Attorney then moved, that

* Appeals of treason in Parliament had been abolished by 1 Hen. IV. c. 14, See 4 Bl. Com. 314.



their Lordships would take care for the securing of their persons. Lord Kimbolton was in the House sitting by Lord Digby, with whom he had a great private intimacy; and who, although he had recommended the measure, pretended to him that it struck him with surprise and horror. According to the concerted plan, and according to the course pursued with Strafford and Laud, the Lord Keeper ought to have moved the immediate commitment of Lord Kimbolton; but his courage failed him, and the House adjourned.

There is no direct evidence that Littleton was privy to the fatal course now pursued by the King, in going to the House of Commons personally to demand and arrest the five members, when they were not delivered up to his messenger; but it is hardly possible to impute to Charles such culpable misconduct, such folly, as well as such criminality, as that he should proceed in a matter of such infinite importance, depending upon the legal extent of his prerogative, without consulting his chief law adviser and the Keeper of his conscience, with whom he was in constant intercourse. We know that a private council had been held upon the subject, from the intelligence conveyed to those most interested by the French ambassador*, and by "that busy stateswoman, the Countess of Carlisle, who had now changed her gallant from Strafford to Pym." If Littleton was present when it was debated and approved of, we may be sure from his character that however much he might disapprove, he would not venture to oppose it. To his timid acquiescence in whatever was proposed on either side, however imprudent or unconstitutional, may in no small degree be attributed the fatal collision which followed. All historians agree, that the prosecution of Lord Kimbolton and the five members, which he might easily have prevented, was the proximate cause of the civil war; for the popular leaders now saw that no faith was to be placed in any of the professions of the Court; and that without an appeal to the sword, their own lives must certainly be sacrificed.

When it was too late, the Lord Keeper brought down a message from the King, "that in all his proceedings [JAN. 14.] against the Lord Kimbolton and the five members, he had never the least intention of violating the least privilege of parliament; and that he was willing to have the matter cleared up in any way that parliament should advise." But this concession was imputed to a temporary apprehension from the burst of indignation which the previous outrage had universally called. forth.

[ocr errors]

Preparations were now made on both sides for hostilities; and the country party brought in their bill for regulating the militia, which they thought indispensable for their own safety, although

* "J'avois prévenu mes amis, et ils s'étoient mis en sûreté."-Mazure, iii. 429. † Warwick, 204.


they could not expect that the King would agree to it, as it appointed a military chief in every county, and in substance transferred the command of the army from the Crown to the Parlia


[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

THE King now withdrew from London, and after passing some time at Newmarket, was proceeding towards York, communicating from time to time with [MARCH, 1642.] the Lord Keeper, in whom he still placed some lingering confidence. Being determined to dismiss the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Holland from the offices of Chamberlain and Groom of the Stole, he sent an order to Littleton that he should require the staff and key from the one and the other. The Keeper trembled at the task, and not being able to summon up courage to undertake it, went privately to Lord Falkland and desired him to assist him in presenting his excuse to the King. Making many professions of loyalty, he expressed a hope that his Majesty would not command him in an affair so unsuitable to the office he hold; that no Keeper had ever been employed in such a service; and that if he should execute the order it would be voted a breach of privilege, and the House would commit him to prison, by which not only would he himself be ruined, but the King would receive the greatest affront; whereas the thing itself might be done by a more proper officer without inconvenience. "How weak soever the reasons were," says Lord Clarendon, "the passion was strong," and his representation being transmitted to the King, he was excused, and the harsh duty was imposed upon Lord Falkland himself.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

But the conduct of the Lord Keeper was now so unsatisfactory that the King was resolved to get rid of him. Since the failure of the prosecution of the five members, Littleton had abandoned all effort to put on a show of vigour in the House of Lords, and had silently suffered the most objectionable votes to be carried without opposition. He was even suspected of perfidy, for he not only declined performing the duty which the king had enjoined him in reference to the Earls of Essex and Holland, but he had private conferences with the leaders of the parliamentary party, who frequently resorted to him, and whom he appeared very much to court. At last, having supported the Militia Bill to which the King refused the royal assent,-when it again came up from the Commons in the form of an ordinance by the two Houses, omitting the King's name, he put the question upon it from the wool

[ocr errors]

sack, and himself actually voted for it, "to the infinite offence and scandal of all those who adhered to the King."* This was in reality the abolition of monarchy and the establishment of a republic.

Hyde, who had a kindness for him, and suspected that his nerves might be more in fault than his principles, [MARCH 5.] went early next morning to call upon him at Exeter House, and finding him in his study, began to express great astonishment and regret at his recent conduct, and plainly told him how he had lost the esteem of all good men, and that the King could not but be exceedingly dissatisfied with him. Some attendants being heard in an outer room, Littleton desired them to withdraw. Then locking the door of that room and of the study, he made Hyde take a seat, and sitting down near him, thus unburdened his mind :


[ocr errors]

"The best proof I can give of my value for this proof of your friendship is by concealing nothing from you. You see before you the most wretched of mankind. I have not had an hour of peace or comfort since I left the Common Pleas, where I knew both the business and the persons I had to deal with. I am supposed to be preferred to a higher dignity, but I am now obliged to converse with another set of men who are strangers to me, and with affairs which I understand not. I have had no friend with whom I could confer on any doubt which might occur to me. The state of public affairs has been deplorable and heart-breaking. The King is ill counselled, and is betrayed by those about him. The proceedings of the parliament which I may have appeared to countenance, I more bitterly condemn; and I am filled with the most gloomy forebodings, for they would never do this if they were not resolved to do more. I know the King too well, and I observe the carriage of particular men too much, and I have watched the whole current of public transactions these last five or six months, not to foresee, that it cannot be long before there will be a war between the King and the two Houses. I often think with myself of what importance it will then be, which party shall have the Great Seal, the Clavis Regni, the token of supreme authority. In my heart I am and ever have been for the King, both out of affection to his person and respect for his high and sacred office. When the trial comes, no man shall be more ready to perish either with or for his Majesty than myself. It is the prospect of this necessity that has made me carry myself towards that party with so much compliance, that I may be gracious with them,-at least that they may have no distrust of me. I know that they have had a consulation within a few days whether, as I may be sent for by the King or another put in my stead, it would not be best to appoint the Seal to be kept in some secure place, so that they might be in no danger of losing it, and that the Keeper should receive it from time

* Clarendon. 2 Parl. Hist. 1091. 1110. 1114.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »