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Charles I. Of England

      Charles I. was born at Dunfermline, November 19, 1600, was a sickly child, unable to speak till his fifth year, and so weak in the ankles that till his seventh he had to crawl upon his hands and knees. Except for a stammer, he outgrew both defects, and became a skilled tilter and marksman, as well as an accomplished scholar and a diligent student of theology. He was created Duke of Albany at his baptism, Duke of York in 1605, and Prince of Wales in 1616, four years after the death of his dear brother, Prince Henry, had left him heir to the crown of three kingdoms. A Spanish match had been mooted as early as 1614; but it was not till February 17, 1623, that, with Buckingham, his inseparable friend, Charles started on the romantic incognito journey to Madrid, its objects to win the hand of the Infanta, and to procure the restitution of the Palatinate to his brother-in-law, Frederick. Both he and his father swore to all possible concessions to the Catholics, but nothing short of his own conversion would have satisfied the Spanish and papal courts; and on October 5th he landed again in England, eager for rupture with Spain.

      The nation's joy was speedily dashed by his betrothal to the French princess, Henrietta Maria (1609-69); for the marriage articles pledged him, in violation of solemn engagements to Parliament, to permit her and all her domestics the free exercise of the Catholic religion, and to give her the up-bringing of their children till the age of thirteen.

      On March 27, 1625, Charles succeeded his father, James I.; on June 13th he welcomed his little bright-eyed queen at Dover, having married her by proxy six weeks earlier. Barely a twelvemonth was over when he packed off her troublesome retinue to France--a bishop and 29 priests, with 410 more male and female attendants. Thenceforth their domestic life was a happy one; and during the twelve years following the murder of Buckingham (1592-1628), in whose hands he had been a mere tool, Charles gradually came to yield himself up to her unwise influence--not wholly indeed, but more than to that of Stafford even, or Laud. Little meddlesome Laud, made archbishop in 1633, proceeded to war against the dominant Puritanism, to preach passive obedience, and uphold the divine right of kings; while great Stafford, from championing the Petition of Right (1628), passed over to the king's service, and entered on that policy of "Thorough" whose aim was to make his master absolute. Three Parliaments were summoned and dissolved in the first four years of the reign; then for eleven years Charles ruled with but one, in its stead, with subservient judges, and the courts of Star Chamber and High Commission. In 1627 he had blundered into an inglorious French war; but with France he concluded peace in 1629, with Spain in 1630. Peace, economy, and arbitrary taxation were to solve the great problem of his policy, how to get money, yet not account for it. Not that Charles cared for money in itself, or had far-reaching projects of tyranny (he failed to enter into Stafford's scheme); but he had inherited a boundless egoism, and content with his own petty self, had little sympathy with the dead heroism of the Tudor age, none at all with the nascent ardor of democracy. The extension of the ship-tax to the inland counties was met by Hampden's passive resistance (1637); Laud's attempt to Anglicize the Scottish Church, by the active resistance of the whole northern nation. Once more Charles had to call a Parliament; two met in 1640--the Short Parliament, which lasted but three weeks, and the Long, which outlasted Charles.

      It met to pronounce Stafford's doom; and his plot with the army detected, Charles basely sacrificed his loyal servitor, his own kingly word, to fears for the queen's safety; no act weighed heavier on him afterward. The same signature that sent Stafford to the block gave assent to a second bill, by which the existing Parliament might not be dissolved without its own consent. That pledge, as extorted by force, Charles purposed to disregard; and during his visit to Edinburgh, in the autumn of 1641, he trusted by lavish concessions to bring over the Scots to his side. Instead, he got entangled in dark suspicions of plotting the murder of the covenanting lords, of connivance even in the Ulster massacre. Still, his return to London was welcomed with some enthusiasm, and a party was forming in the Commons itself, of men who revolted from the sweeping changes that menaced both church and state. Pym's "Grand Remonstrance" justified their fears, and Charles seemed to justify the "Grand Remonstrance" by his attempt to arrest the five members (January 4, 1642); but that ill-stricken blow was dictated by the knowledge of an impending impeachment of the queen herself. On August 22d he raised the royal standard at Nottingham; and the four years civil war commenced, in which, as at Naseby, he showed no lack of physical courage, and which resulted at Naseby in the utter annihilation of his cause (June 14, 1645).

Princess Elizabeth in Prison.

      No need here to track him through plot and counterplot with Catholics, Presbyterians, and Sectaries, with the Scots and the Irish, with the Parliament and the Army; enough that, quitting his last refuge, Oxford, he surrendered himself on May 5, 1646, to the Scots at Newark, and by them, in the following January, was handed over to the Parliament. His four months captivity at Holmby House, near Northampton; his seizure on June 3d by Cornet Joyce; the three months at Hampton Court; the fight on November 11th; the fresh captivity at Carisbrooke Castle, in the Isle of Wight--these lead up to the trial at Westminster of the tyrant, traitor, and murderer, Charles Stuart. He had drawn the sword, and by the sword he perished, for it was the Army, not Parliament, that stood at the back of the judges. Charles faced them bravely and with dignity. Thrice he refused to plead, denying the competence of such a court: and his refusal being treated as a confession, on the third day fifty-five out of seventy-one judges--sixty-four more never were present--affixed their names and seals to his death-warrant; four days later, sentence was pronounced.

      No need here to tell the well-known story of his meekness toward his persecutors, of the pathetic parting from two of his younger children, of his preparation for a holy death; or how, on the morning of January 30, 1649, he passed to that death on the scaffold in front of Whitehall, with a courage worthy of a very martyr. On the snowy 7th of February they bore the "white king" to his grave at Windsor in Henry VIII.'s vault; in 1813 the Prince Regent had his leaden coffin opened. Six children survived him--Charles and James, his successors; Mary, Princess of Orange (1631-60); Elizabeth (1635-50); Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1639-60); and Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans (1644-70), the last born ten weeks after Charles's final parting from his queen. At the Restoration Charles II. appointed, on his sole authority, a form of prayer, with fasting, for the day of the martyrdom of the Blessed King Charles I., to be annexed to the Common Prayer Book, with the other state services; it kept its place there till 1859.

      A far stronger man than Charles might scarcely have extricated himself from the difficulties that beset him; true, those difficulties were largely of his own creating. But was he right in abandoning Stafford? should he also have sacrificed wife, faith, and crown? If yes, then was he wholly in the wrong; if no, he was partly--for once at least--in the right. Vices, other than duplicity, he had none, as we use the word. He was vague, vacillating, obstinate, unable to lead or to be led; superstitious, heedful of omens; unsympathetic and reserved where he did not love; intolerant of opposition to his will. But he was a good husband, a good father, a good churchman--no man so good was ever so bad a king; no man so fallible believed so honestly in his infallibility. For Charles was honest to his own convictions. His very duplicity was due sometimes to schooling in "kingcraft," but oftener to inability to see two sides of a question. Now he saw one, and now the other, but never both sides at once; and, just as he saw, so he spoke. Milton's charges against him of "all manner of lewdness" rank with Milton's charge that he poisoned his father. Indeed, as a pattern of culture and purity, few princes are worthy to be named beside him.

      His children all loved and respected him. His little daughter Elizabeth, held as a prisoner by his foes, wrote of him with such womanly sympathy and admiration as even now brings tears to our eyes. His last letter of advice to his son Charles is a model hardly to be improved on. Parts of it read as follows:

      "I had rather you should be Charles le bon, than le grand, good, than great; I hope God hath designed you to be both; having so early put you into that exercise of His graces and gifts bestowed upon you, which may best weed out all vicious inclinations, and dispose you to those princely endowments and employments which will most gain the love, and intend the welfare of those over whom God shall place you.

      "With God, I would have you begin and end, who is King of kings, the sovereign disposer of the kingdoms of the world, who pulleth down one and setteth up another.

      "The best government and highest sovereignty you can attain to, is to be subject to Him, that the sceptre of His word and spirit may rule in your heart.

      "The true glory of princes consists in advancing God's glory, in the maintenance of true religion and the church's good; also in the dispensation of civil power with justice and honor to the public peace.

      "Piety will make you prosperous, at least it will keep you from becoming miserable; nor is he much a loser that loseth all, yet saveth his own soul at last.

      "To which centre of true happiness, God (I trust) hath and will graciously direct all these black lines of affliction which He hath been pleased to draw on me, and by which He hath (I hope) drawn me nearer to Himself. You have already tasted of that cup whereof I have liberally drunk; which I look upon as God's physic, having that in healthfulness which it wants in pleasure.

      "Take heed that outward circumstances and formalities of religion devour not all, or the best, encouragements of learning, industry, and piety; but with an equal eye and impartial hand distribute favors and rewards to all men, as you find them for their real goodness both in abilities and fidelity, worthy and capable of them.

      "And if neither I nor you be ever restored to our right, but God, in His severest justice, will punish my subjects with continuance in their sin, and suffer them to be deluded with the prosperity of their wickedness, I hope God will give me and you that grace which will teach and enable us to want, as well as to wear, a crown, which is not worth taking up or enjoying upon sordid, dishonorable and irreligious terms.

      "Keep you to true principles of piety, virtue, and honor; you shall never want a kingdom.

      "A principal point of your honor will consist in your deferring all respect, love, and protection to your mother, my wife, who hath many ways deserved well of me, and chiefly in this, that having been a means to bless me with so many hopeful children (all which, with their mother, I recommend to your love and care), she hath been content with incomparable magnanimity and patience to suffer both for and with me and you.

      "Farewell, till we meet, if not on earth, yet in heaven."

      But Charles was predestined to sorrow. "A tragic face!" said the sculptor Bernini, as he looked on the triple portrait by Vandyke. Already the shadow of a violent death overclouded those fine, weak features.

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