Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

an

nice. He preferred the last; and conducted himself so much to the king's satisfaction, that he was sent on two other occasions to Venice; he also performed embassies to the United Provinces, to the duke of Savoy, the united princes of Germany, the Archduke Leopold, the duke of Wirtemberg, the imperial cities of Strasburg and Ulm, and the emperor Ferdinand II. In all these missions Sir Henry exhibited great skill as a diplomatist. But he appears to have nearly forfeited his royal master's confidence by one little piece of imprudence, which we shall relate as characteristic of the times and of the temper of the English monarch. On his way to Venice, through Germany, Sir Henry happened to spend some days at Augsburg, where he met with some ingenious and learned men, one of them requested him to write some sentence in his album as a memorandum of him. With this request Sir Henry good-humouredly complied, and, taking occasion from some incidental discourse of the company, inserted the following definition of an ambassador in his friend's album : “Legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicæ causà;" that is, “ An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to tell falsehoods for the good of his country." By some unlucky chance, eight years afterwards, this album fell into the hands of the scurrilous Jasper Scioppius, who was at that time engaged in writing a book against King James. Wotton's sentence caught his eye, and he immediately introduced it into his book as an authentic specimen of the principles which this protestant monarch inculcated upon his servants. James was greatly grieved at this, and for a time threatened to visit his imprudent ambassador with some signal mark of his displeasure. But an apologetical letter, · De Caspare Scioppio, ' which Sir Henry addressed to James, so mightily pleased the royal pedant that he declared publicly " he had commuted sufficiently for a greater offence."

Wotton returned to England the year before king James died. He now withdrew from politics, and accepted, in 1623, the provostship of Eton college. In this comparative retreat he gave himself up entirely to religious meditation and the tranquil pursuits of literature. He died in December, 1639. He was the author of several small pieces on different subjects, which were published together in a volume entitled • Reliquiæ Wottonianæ,' in 1651. The State of Christendom' was first published, in folio, in 1657. Several other pieces of his still remain in manuscript.

Thomas, Earl of Strafford.

BORN A. D. 1593.-DIED A. D. 1641.

Thomas WENTWORTH, earl of Strafford, the favourite and able, but corrupt minister of Charles I., was the son of Sir William Wentworth, a Yorkshire gentleman, whose family made a distinguished figure among the revivers of popular liberty in the reign of Elizabeth. He was the eldest of twelve children, and was born in London on the 15th of April, 1593. He completed his studies at St John's college, Cambridge, after which he spent a short time on the continent.

On his return from abroad in 1613, he appeared at court, and was knighted by King James. About the same time he married Margaret Clifford, the eldest daughter of the earl of Cumberland. In the follow. ing year he succeeded by the death of his father to a baronetcy, and an estate of £6000 a-year. His great wealth and influence soon pointed him out to the government as a person whose services were likely to be useful in the north of England, and accordingly, on the resignation of Sir John Saville, Custos rotulorum for the west riding of Yorkshire, that office was conferred on Wentworth. But he comnienced his political career on the side of the opposition. In 1621, he was returned to parliament for the county of York; and such was the spirit he displayed in defending the popular rights against encroachment, that, in 1626, he was appointed a sheriff, for the purpose of being prevented resuming his seat in the house. In the following year he was sent to prison for refusing to contribute to the forced loan.

In Charles's third parliament he again represented the county of York, and joined with Eliot, Philips, and Seymour, in supporting the petition of right. When some proposed that they should rest satisfied with the king's assurances, without pressing the petition, Wentworth strenuously opposed so dangerous a course, “ There hath been," said he, “a public violation of the laws by his majesty's ministers; and nothing shall satisfy me but a public amends. Our desire to vindicate the subjects rights exceeds not what is laid down in former laws, with some modest provision for instruction and performances.” When the lords proposed to add to the petition a clause importing that they left entire all the rights and privileges of royalty, and wished to employ the term “sovereign power' for 'prerogative,' Wentworth exclaimed against the proposition. “If we do admit of this addition,” said he, “we shall leave the subject in a worse state than we found him. Let us leave all power to his majesty to bring malefactors to legal punishment; but our laws are not acquainted with sovereign power.' We desire no new thing ; nor do we offer to trench on his majesty's prerogative ; but we may not secede from this petition, either in whole or in part." These were sentiments worthy of a Wentworth ; but he who uttered them was destined soon to belie them by the grossest act of apostasy. Buckingham now felt and estimated the value of the man. That abandoned minister had hitherto treated Wentworth with great contempt, but he now saw his mistake, and resolved to retrace his steps; he courted Wentworth, and soon made overtures to him which were accepted. Wentworth had in fact been guided bitherto by ambition only. Repulsed in his first advances towards Buckingham, he at once perceived that the gates of court-favour were shut against him, and that to gain any thing from it, he must work upon the necessities and fears of the king and his minister. Upon this principle he chose his part, and how successfully he supported it let the result show.

His commission as president for the council of the north was the first item in his bargain with the court, and was signed a month before Buckingham's assassination : he was also advanced to the peerage with the title of baron. Hume notices Wentworth's desertion of his party, in language which, while it sounds like an apology, does virtually admit the baseness of his conduct. “ His fidelity to the king," says the artful historian, “was unshaken ; but as he now employed all his counsels to support the prerogative, which he had formerly bent all his powers to diminish, his virtue seems not to have been entirely pure, but to have been susceptible of strong impressions from private interest and ambition.” The truth is, Wentworth's conduct at this period is utterly incapable of vindication; it has been justly pronounced "a varefaced and deliberate sale of himself, his character, and conscience." The council of York, or of the north, was a fit sphere for such a man. It originated in a commission of oyer and terminer granted to the archbishop of York, and some lawyers and gentlemen closely connected with that large county, so early as the 31st year of Henry VIII., for the

purpose of investigating the causes of a recent popular tumult, and bringing the ringleaders to punishment. The commission worked so well for the government, that it was frequently renewed, and that on very slight pretexts. Both Elizabeth and James extended its powers ; and under the enlarged instructions granted to Wentworth, the council of York exercised the whole jurisdiction of the four northern counties, and embraced not only the powers of a court of common law, but even the exorbitant authority of the star-chamber. “ His commission,” says Clarendon, “placed the northern counties entirely beyond the protection of the common law. It included 58 instructions, of which scarcely one did not exceed or directly violate the common law; and, by its natural operation, it had almost overwhelmed the country under the sea of arbitrary power, and involved the people in a labyrinth of distemper, oppression, and poverty."

In 1631, he was appointed lord-deputy of Ireland. Hume says that he governed that country for eight years with great vigilance, activity, and prudence, and that his conduct upon the whole was not only invocent but even laudable, yet it was proved on his trial that he had repeatedly affirmed “ that while he was governor he would make an act of state, or an act of the council-board, as good as an act of parliament ; that he would not have his orders disputed by law or lawyers; that the Irish were a conquered nation, with whom the king might do as he pleased, and, for their antiquated charters, they were binding no farther than he pleased.” He writes to Laud: “I know no reason but you may as well rule the common lawyers in England as I, poor beagle, do here; and yet that I do, and will do, in all that concerns my master upon the peril of my head.” And he soon after boasts :

:-“I can now say the king is as absolute here as any prince in the whole world

His government of Ireland was a pure military despotism ; he not only employed the army to put down all opposition or resistance to his iniquitous and arbitrary measures, but he endeavoured to introduce as many officers as he could into the Irish house of commons for the purpose of securing majorities. In one of his despatches to Charles, after boasting that he had so balanced the protestant and recusant members, in the lower house, as nearly to neutralise both, he adds :—“I will also labour to get as many captains and officers returned as burgesses as I possibly can, who, having immediate dependance on the crown, may almost sway the business which way they please.” Such is a speci. men of the administration which Hume has pronounced prudent and laudable :

Equally pernicious were the maxims of policy which from time to time he urged his infatuated master to adopt in the government of Eng. land. He advises the king to give “seasonable rewards to the judges

can be."

a

for occasional services," and adds that, “ by a constant and quick applying of rewards and punishments, he might soon be rendered, both at home and abroad, the most powerful and considerable king in Christendom." In a subsequent letter, after observing that the infamous judgment in the case of ship-money, was “the greatest service the profession of the law had done the crown in his time," he adds, “but unless his majesty has the like power declared to raise a land army upon the same exigent of state, the crown seems to stand but upon one leg at home, and to be considerable but by halves to foreign princes abroad." Again he says,

“ The debts of the crown being taken off, you may govern as you please: and most resolute I am that may be done without borrowing any help forth of the king's lodgings." All this was sweet counsel to Charles, who rewarded his favourite adviser with the earldom of Strafford in September, 1639, and at the same time changed his title of deputy to that of lord-lieutenant of Ireland.

The impeachment of Strafford was the first blow struck by the chanıpions of freedom in the long parliament. His friends wished him to avoid the approaching storm either by remaining in Yorkshire at the head of the army, or by retiring to Ireland; but he disdained such pusillanimous advice, and boldly threw himself into the teeth of his enemics. He hastened up to the metropolis and sought an interview with his sovereign. The commons were at first a little lisconcerted at his unexpected arrival, but after a debate with closed doors, they proceeded in a body to the bar of the lords, where Pym, in their name im. peached the earl of high treason. Strafford no sooner heard what was going forward than he rushed to the house, and was proceeding to his place, when a number of voices called upon him to withdraw. On his readmission, the speaker informed him that in consequence of his impeachment, the house had ordered him into the custody of the black rod; he attempted to address the peers, but was instantly silenced, and led out by the usher. The trial took place in Westminster hall, and was watched with the most intense interest by the nation. The principal charges brought against him were the general support of despotism, and various specific acts of misgovernment as lord-lieutenant of Ireland and president of the council of York. He conducted his own defence with great ability. “There certainly never was a grander spectacle of intellectual supremacy and fearlessness presented on any stage. During seventeen days, the thirteen managers for the commons rose successively against him. Alone,-broken with sickness,—surrounded by enemies,ếhe threw them all in turn, and stood among them like a being of another world.”' Hume has tortured his ingenuity to misrepresent the whole proceedings in this famous trial. He calls the previous investigation by the committee appointed to prepare the articlıs' of charge, an inquisition ; he is greatly indignant because the committec were allowed to examine privy-councillors; and he asserts that the impeachment of Sir George Ratcliffe was only got up on purpose to de prive Strafford of the assistance of his best friend. As to the first of these insinuations, nothing can be clearer than that the committee were entitled to collect evidence to support their charges, and, it is only another instance of the historian's unfairness, to apply to this the hateful

'Edin. Rev. vol. xlvii. p. 294.

name of an inquisition. The second insinuation is equally frivolous. The law and practice of evidence was by no means clearly defined at the time; but the doctrine was admitted that a minister of the crown was answerable to his country for the advice he gave his sovereign ; and how was the fact of evil advice having been tendered to be ascertained but by the evidence of other members of the council ? As to Ratcliffe's impeachment, it is sufficient to state that he was the principal accomplice of Strafford in his acts of misgovernment in Ireland, and that whatever tended to criminate the one criminated the other also. Ratcliffe was worthy of sharing the fate of his master; but the magnanimity of the English commons forbade more than one sacrifice to public justice. Let us now briefly attend to the articles of charge, and the defence put forth by Hume with respect to them. We have seen that that historian pronounced Strafford's Irish administration to have been “innocent and even laudable.” We need not multiply Proofs of the despotism, rapacity, and cruelty which characterised this laudable administration : one single case—and we will quote it in the words of Hume himself will suffice as a specimen of it. “ It had been reported at the table of Lord-chancellor Loftus, that Annesley, one of the deputy's attendants, in moving a stool had sorely hurt his master's foot, who was at that time afticted with the gout. Perhaps,' said Mountnorris, who was present at table, it was done in revenge of that public affront which my lord-deputy formerly put upon him: But he has a brother who would not have taken such a revenge.' This casual, and seemingly innocent, at least ambiguous expression, was reported to Strafford, who, on pretence that such a suggestion might prompt Annesley to avenge himself in another manner, ordered Mountnorris, who was an officer, to be tried by a court-martial for mutiny and sedition against his general. The court, which consisted of the chief officers of the army, found the crime to be capital, and condemned that nobleman to lose his head.” More unjust, if possible, and vindictive was his treatment of Lord Ely. That nobleman was thrown into prison in order to compel bim to settle his estate in a manner agreeable to his daughter-in-law, a paramour of the lord-lieutenant. As to the misdeeds of the council of York, Hume thinks it a sufficient defence for Strafford to say that he never in person presided in that court. It is a sufficient reply to this, however, that every public functionary is responsible for the acts and deeds of his deputy, especially if that deputy be appointed by him and removeable at his pleasure. It has been argued that the articles exhibited against Strafford did not strictly amount to high treason ; he took up this ground of defence himself, and argued technically that he was not a traitor according to the legal definition of the word. At last the commons dropped the impeachment and brought in a bill of attainder, which, in spite of strong opposition, was read a third time and passed the commons on the eleventh day. Several conscientious men, aniong whom was Selden, voted against the bill, but neither Hyde nor Falkland, nor many of the respectable royalists seem to have opposed it.

Mr Brodie and Mr Godwin justify the bill of attainder. Mr Hallam defends the principle, but objects to the severity of the punishment. For our own part, we are satisfied with Mr Godwin's reasoning on this point. “ No one,” says that acute and impartial historian, can question

« AnteriorContinuar »