History of the English People Volume 6

History of the English People Volume 6




von: John Green

Charles River Editors, 2018

ISBN: 9781508016465

Sprache: Englisch

323 Seiten, Download: 2684 KB

Format:  EPUB

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History of the English People Volume 6




WITH THE CLOSE OF THE Civil War we enter on a time of confused struggles, a time tedious and uninteresting in its outer details, but of higher interest than even the war itself in its bearing on our after history. Modern England, the England among whose thoughts and sentiments we actually live, began, however dimly and darkly, with the triumph of Naseby. Old things passed silently away. When Astley gave up his sword the “work” of the generations which had struggled for Protestantism against Catholicism, for public liberty against absolute rule, in his own emphatic phrase, was “done.” So far as these contests were concerned, however the later Stuarts might strive to revive them, England could safely “go to play.” English religion was never to be more in danger. English liberty was never to be really in peril from the efforts of kings after a personal rule. Whatever reaction might come about, it would never bring into question the great constitutional results that the Long Parliament had wrought. But with the end of this older work a new work began. The constitutional and ecclesiastical problems which still in one shape or another beset us started to the front as subjects of national debate in the years between the close of the Civil War and the death of the king. The great parties which have ever since divided the social, the political, and the religious life of England, whether as Independents and Presbyterians, as Whigs and Tories, as Conservatives and Liberals, sprang into organized existence in the contest between the Army and the Parliament. Then for the first time began a struggle which is far from having ended yet, the struggle between political tradition and political progress, between the principle of religious conformity and the principle of religious freedom.

It was the religious struggle which drew the political in its train. The victory of Naseby raised a wider question than that of mere toleration. “Honest men served you faithfully in this action,” Cromwell wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons from the field. “Sir, they are trusty: I beseech you in the name of God not to discourage them. He that ventures his life for the liberty of his country, I wish he trust God for the liberty of his conscience.” The storm of Bristol encouraged him to proclaim the new principle yet more distinctly. “Presbyterians, Independents, all here have the same spirit of faith and prayer, the same presence and answer. They agree here, have no names of difference; pity it is it should be otherwise anywhere. All that believe have the real unity, which is the most glorious, being the inward and spiritual, in the body and in the head. For being united in forms (commonly called uniformity), every Christian will for peace’ sake study and do as far as conscience will permit. And from brethren in things of the mind we look for no compulsion but that of light and reason.” The increasing firmness of Cromwell’s language was due to the growing irritation of his opponents. The two parties became every day more clearly defined. The Presbyterian ministers complained bitterly of the increase of the Sectaries, and denounced the toleration which had come into practical existence without sanction from the law. Scotland, whose army was still before Newark, pressed for the execution of the Covenant and the universal enforcement of a religious uniformity. Sir Harry Vane, on the other hand, who now headed the party which advocated religious freedom in the Commons, strove to bring the Parliament round to less rigid courses by the introduction of two hundred and thirty new members, who filled the seats left vacant by the withdrawal of Royalist members, and the more eminent of whom, such as Ireton and Algernon Sidney, were inclined to support the Independents. But the majority in both Houses still clung to the Tudor tradition of religious uniformity; and it was only the pressure of the New Model, and the remonstrances of Cromwell as its mouthpiece, that hindered any effective movement towards persecution.

Amidst the wreck of his fortunes Charles seized on the growing discord among his opponents as a means of retrieving all. He trusted that the dread of revolution would at last rally the whole body of conservative Englishmen round the royal standard; and it is likely enough that had he frankly flung himself on the side of the Parliament at this juncture he might have regained much of his older power. But, beaten and hunted as he was from place to place, he was determined to regain not much but all. The terms which the Houses offered were still severe; and Charles believed that a little kingcraft would free him from the need of accepting any terms whatever. He intrigued therefore busily with both parties, and promised liberty of worship to Vane and the Independents at the moment when he was negotiating with the Parliament and with the Scots. His negotiations were quickened by the march of Fairfax upon Oxford. Driven from his last refuge at the close of April 1646, the king had to choose between a flight from the realm or a surrender to one of the armies about him. Charles had no mind to forsake England when all seemed working for his success; and after some aimless wanderings he made his appearance in May in the camp of the Scots. The choice was dexterous enough. The Parliament and the Army were still left face to face. On the other hand the Scots were indignant at what they regarded as a breach of faith in the toleration which existed in England, and Charles believed that his presence would at once rekindle their loyalty to a king of Scottish blood. But the results of his surrender were other than he had hoped. To the world at large his action seemed simply the prelude to an accommodation with his opponents on the ground of religious uniformity. This new aspect of affairs threatened the party of religious freedom with ruin. Hated as they were by the Scots, by the Lords, by the City of London, the apparent junction of Charles with their enemies destroyed their growing hopes in the Commons, where the prospects of a speedy peace on Presbyterian terms at once swelled the majority of their opponents. The two Houses laid their conditions of peace before the king without a dream of resistance from one who seemed to have placed himself at their mercy. They required for the Parliament the command of the army and fleet for twenty years; the exclusion of all “Malignants,” or Royalists who had taken part in the war, from civil and military office; the abolition of Episcopacy; and the establishment of a Presbyterian Church. Of toleration or liberty of conscience they said not a word.

The Scots, whose army had fallen back with its royal prize to Newcastle, pressed these terms on the king “with tears.” His friends, and even the queen, urged their acceptance. But the aim of Charles was simply delay. His surrender had not brought about the results he had hoped for; but he believed that time and the dissensions of his enemies were fighting for him. “I am not without hope,” he wrote coolly, “that I shall be able to draw either the Presbyterians or the Independents to side with me for extirpating one another, so that I shall be really king again.” With this end he refused the terms offered by the Houses. His refusal was a crushing defeat for the Presbyterians. “What will become of us,” asked one of them, “now that the king has rejected our proposals?” “What would have become of us,” retorted an Independent, “had he accepted them?” The vigour of Holles and the Conservative leaders in the Parliament rallied however to a bolder effort. It was plain that the king’s game lay in balancing the Army against the Parliament, and that the Houses could hope for no submission to these terms so long as the New Model was on foot. Nor could they venture in its presence to enforce religious uniformity, or to deal as they would have wished to deal with the theories of religious freedom which were every day becoming more popular. But while the Scotch army lay at Newcastle, and while it held the king in its hands, they could not insist on dismissing their own soldiers. It was only a withdrawal of the Scots from England and their transfer of the king’s person into the hands of the Houses that would enable them to free themselves from the pressure of their own soldiers by disbanding the New Model.

In his endeavour to bring these two measures about Holles met with an unexpected success. Hopeless of success in the projects of accommodation which they laid before the king, and unable to bring him into Scotland in face of the refusal of the General Assembly to receive a sovereign who would not swear to the Covenant, the Scottish army in January 1647 accepted £400,000 in discharge of its claims, handed Charles over to a Committee of the Houses, and marched back over the Border. The success of their diplomacy restored the confidence of the Houses. The Presbyterian leaders looked on themselves as masters of the king, and they resolved to assert their mastery over the New Model and the Sectaries. They voted that the army should be disbanded, and that a new army should be raised for the suppression of the Irish rebellion with Presbyterian officers at its head. It was in vain that the men protested against being severed from “officers that we love,” and that the Council of Officers strove to gain time by pressing on the Parliament the danger of mutiny. Holles and his fellow-leaders were resolute, and their ecclesiastical legislation showed the end at which their resolution...