Previously on The End of the Star Chamber. And now the conclusion of Part 2 by Thomas Macaulay
|The Long Parliament|
For the senseless freak which had produced these effects Wentworth is not responsible. It had, in fact, thrown all his plans into confusion. To counsel submission, however, was not in his nature. An attempt was made to put down the insurrection by the sword; but the King's military means and military talents were unequal to the task. To impose fresh taxes on England in defiance of law would, at this conjuncture, have been madness. No resource was left but a Parliament; and in the spring of 1640 a parliament was convoked.
The nation had been put into good humor by the prospect of seeing constitutional government restored and grievances redressed. The new House of Commons was more temperate and more respectful to the throne than any which had sat since the death of Elizabeth. The moderation of this assembly has been highly extolled by the most distinguished royalists, and seems to have caused no small vexation and disappointment to the chiefs of the opposition; but it was the uniform practice of Charles--a practice equally impolitic and ungenerous--to refuse all compliances with the desires of his people, till those desires were expressed in a menacing tone. As soon as the Commons showed a disposition to take into consideration the grievances under which the country had suffered during eleven years, the King dissolved the Parliament with every mark of displeasure.
Between the dissolution of this short-lived assembly and the meeting of that ever-memorable body known by the name of the Long Parliament, intervened a few months, during which the yoke was pressed down more severely than ever on the nation, while the spirit of the nation rose up more angrily than ever against the yoke. Members of the House of Commons were questioned by the privy council touching their parliamentary conduct, and thrown into prison for refusing to reply. Ship-money was levied with increased rigor. The lord mayor and the sheriffs of London were threatened with imprisonment for remissness in collecting the payments. Soldiers were enlisted by force. Money for their support was exacted from their counties. Torture, which had always been illegal, and which had recently been declared illegal even by the servile judges of that age, was inflicted for the last time in England in the month of May, 1640.
Everything now depended on the event of the King's military operations against the Scots. Among his troops there was little of that feeling which separates professional soldiers from the mass of a nation and attaches them to their leaders. His army, composed for the most part of recruits, who regretted the plough from which they had been violently taken, and who were imbued with the religious and political sentiments then prevalent throughout the country, was more formidable to himself than to the enemy. The Scots, encouraged by the heads of the English opposition, and feebly resisted by the English forces, marched across the Tweed and the Tyne, and encamped on the borders of Yorkshire. And now the murmurs of discontent swelled into an uproar by which all spirits save one were overawed. But the voice of Strafford was still for Thorough; and he even, in this extremity, showed a nature so cruel and despotic that his own pikemen were ready to tear him in pieces.
There was yet one last expedient which, as the King flattered himself, might save him from the misery of facing another House of Commons. To the House of Lords he was less averse. The bishops were devoted to him; and though the temporal peers were generally dissatisfied with his administration, they were, as a class, so deeply interested in the maintenance of order and in the stability of ancient institutions that they were not likely to call for extensive reforms. Departing from the uninterrupted practice of centuries, he called a great council consisting of lords alone. But the lords were too prudent to assume the unconstitutional functions with which he wished to invest them. Without money, without credit, without authority even in his own camp, he yielded to the pressure of necessity.
In November, 1640, met that renowned Parliament which, in spite of many errors and disasters, is justly entitled to the reverence and gratitude of all who, in any part of the world, enjoy the blessings of constitutional government.
During the year which followed, no very important division of opinion appeared in the Houses. The civil and ecclesiastical administration had, through a period of nearly twelve years, been so oppressive and so unconstitutional that even those classes of which the inclinations are generally on the side of order and authority were eager to promote popular reforms and to bring the instruments of tyranny to justice. It was enacted that no interval of more than three years should ever elapse between Parliament and Parliament, and that, if writs under the great seal were not issued at the proper time, the returning officers should, without such writs, call the constituent bodies together for the choice of representatives. The Star-chamber, the High Commission, the Council of York were swept away. Men who, after suffering cruel mutilations, had been confined in remote dungeons regained their liberty. On the chief ministers of the crown the vengeance of the nation was unsparingly wreaked. The lord keeper, the primate, the lord lieutenant were mpeached. Finch saved himself by flight. Laud was flung into the Tower. Strafford was put to death, beheaded by act of attainder. On the day on which this act passed, the King gave his assent to a law by which he bound himself not to adjourn, prorogue, or dissolve the existing Parliament without its own consent.
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