Charles I

 

Charles I

The Scots were overall victorious as they represented the flower of Scotland, whereas the English soldiers had but little heart for fighting. Negotiations were soon opened and a treaty of peace was concluded. Though the terms were vague, the Scots still had a great deal of loyalty to their king and willingly agreed to terms that would never have been acceptable with a foreign enemy. This devotion was repaid by Charles’ perfidy, and the next year he again prepared to invade Scotland. Not waiting for the English armies to reach their boarders, the Scots entered England and completely discomfited the king’s forces at Newburn, almost without striking a blow. With his army dispirited and his nobles lukewarm, the king was forced to again open negotiations with the Scots.

In November, 1640, Parliament met at Westminster. This parliament, known as the Long Parliament, boldly discussed the grievances under which the nation groaned. The king’s two favorites, Strafford and Laud, were impeached and brought to the block. Other reforms were instituted, and many of the effects of the recent years of despotism were swept away by the spirit of reform. It seemed for a time that even the king was converted to the changes. The dark clouds of war seemed to be diminishing; and the king, who had betrayed the faith of his subjects a score of times, was almost trusted by a rejoicing nation.

At this critical moment, terrible tidings arrived from Ireland. A slaughter of Protestants by the Roman Catholics began on October 23, 1641, that rivaled that of the slaughter of St. Bartholomew in France. The butcheries were similar to those imposed on the Waldenses, and the estimates of the total number killed ranged from the low of 50,000 upwards to 300,000. The northern parts of Ireland were nearly depopulated. The persons involved in this atrocity pleaded the king’s authority and produced Charles’s commission with is broad seal attached to it, reviving the former suspicions as to the king’s sincerity and hurrying the king and the nation to a terrible catastrophe.

After the breakdown of a series of exchanges between the king and Parliament, Charles marched to Nottingham where he set up his standard on August 22, 1642.

Trial of Charles

The first battle between the forces loyal to the king and those recruited by Parliament was at Edgehill, Warwickshire. Both sides claimed the victory over the hard-contested field. From there the tide of battle shifted from one side to the other with the Royalists initially holding the upper hand. The Royalists had the superiority of arms and their soldiers were well disciplined, led by commanders who had learned the art of war on the battlefields of the Continent. In contrast, the armies of Parliament were new recruits. As time passed, however, and the new recruits gained skill and experience, the fortunes of war began to shift. Brave from principle and with the consciousness of a noble cause, the army of Parliament was inspired with ardor and courage. The longer the war lasted, the greater became the disparity between the two opposing armies. Finally, on July 1, 1644, at Marston Moor, the virtual fate of the war was decided. From this day on, the king’s fortunes steadily declined.

When the king eventually became a prisoner, England came under a dual directorate, one half of which was a body of debating civilians and the other a conquering army. Parliament soon lost control of the situation and ceased to be master of itself. Cromwell, the virtual head of the army, put himself at the head of affairs and brought the debating to an end. Colonel Joyce was sent to Holmby House, where Charles was confined, and showed such good authority—namely an armed force—that Charles was immediately turned over to him. Colonel Pride was next sent to the House of Commons; and taking his stand at the door with a regiment of soldiers, he admitted only those who could be relied upon. The number to which Parliament was reduced to by this action was no more than fifty or sixty members. This body, known as the Rump Parliament, drew up papers accusing Charles Stuart of high treason. Brought before this tribunal, Charles declined to accept its jurisdiction and was quickly condemned as a traitor and sentenced to be beheaded.

The scaffold was erected before Whitehall on January 30, 1649. An immense crowd filled the street, along which shotted cannon were turned assuring that no tumult would interrupt the unfolding events. A scaffold receiving their sovereign’s blood was a spectacle that England had never before witnessed, and it was a drama they could scarcely believe would go to its end. At the appointed hour, the king stepped to the scaffold, bearing himself with dignity.

For thirty years the popish powers had attempted to overthrow the Protestant movement. Massacres and devastation had overtaken the cities and villages of Bohemia and Hungary. These nations, Protestant when the war began, were forced back and trodden into popish superstition and then into slavery by its end. This period, known as the Thirty Years’ War, continued to sweep over the forces of the Protestant kingdoms of Germany until Gustavaeus Adolphus of Sweden had rolled it back. After his death, Romanism seemed to gain a fresh force; but by this time, England and Scotland had become even more important theaters than Germany was. Knowing that without the overthrow of Protestantism in these two countries their triumphs in other parts of Europe would by to no avail, the Jesuits with their intrigue, sought to corrupt Great Britain and thereby recover both England and Scotland. Their design seemed to be on the very threshold of success when it all ended at the scaffold at Whitehall.

“So sudden a collapse had overtaken the schemings and plotting of thirty years! The sky of Europe changed in almost a single day; and the great wave of popish reaction which had rolled over all Germany, and dashed itself against the shores of Britain, threatening at one time to submerge all the Protestant States of Christendom, felt the check of an unseen Hand, and subsided and retired at the scaffold of Charles I.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 3, 556

Cromwell

The fall of the monarchy in England was soon followed by a military dictatorship, headed by Oliver Cromwell. If Cromwell was a tyrant, he was so in a very different way than Charles had been. Under his government, England suddenly broke forth from a position of weakness to one of great prestige. She again became a force to be reckoned with in Christendom. The massacres were brought to an end in the Waldensian valleys, and even the pope trembled in the Vatican when Oliver threatened to make his fleet visit the Eternal City. For the remainder of his rule, as Lord Protector, until his death in 1658, the people of England experienced the spirit of liberty; and her people could breathe more freely.

Soon after Cromwell's death in 1658, there was a move to restore the son of Charles to the English throne; and on May 26, 1680, Charles II returned to England where he was received almost without conditions. The nation was nearly overcome with joy that the king was returning.

On May 29, 1660, Charles was crowned in London. To all who approached him, Charles had a smiling face and a profusion of pleasant words. Though only thirty years of age with a fair exterior, he was already a veteran in vice. His elevation to the throne was followed by a flood of profanity and vice in England.

The Jesuits, whose plans had been so abruptly interrupted by the scaffold in front of the Palace of Whitehall but a few years before, now saw the opportunity to resume their work of eradicating English liberty and the country's return to the Roman faith. While professing both zeal and affection for the Church of England, Charles II was at heart a Catholic, committed to the restoration of the Roman religion in England. That greater headway toward this restoration was not realized during his life can be attributed to the fact that as much as he loved the Roman Church, he was not willing to sacrifice either his crown or his pleasure for her.

In 1685, at the age of 54, Charles II died from an illness, the symptoms of which, all agreed, were those of poisoning.

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