Charles I

The Gunpowder Plot

“The Order of Jesus is never more formidable than when it appears to be least so. It is when the Jesuits are stripped of all external means of doing harm that they devise the vastest schemes, and execute them with the most daring courage. . . . The Jesuits in England now began to meditate a great blow.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 3, 527

Catesby, a gentleman of an ancient family, proposed in one sweeping blow to destroy the king and Parliament. In short, he proposed to blow up the House of Parliament with the gunpowder when the king and the Estates of the Realm were all assembled. The plot was entrusted to about twenty persons. They were able to hire a coal-cellar under the Parliament building in which they placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. Over these they placed stones and iron bars.

Shortly before the time for the plot to be executed, Guy Fawkes, one of the ringleaders in the plot, was sent to Rome with a letter to Clement requesting an order from his Holiness, or else the head of the Jesuits, ordering a cessation of all disturbances among the Catholics of England. The Protestants were deceived by these pretensions, not realizing that the very men who were loudest in their protestations of loyalty and brotherly concern were all the while storing gunpowder under the House of Lords, counting the hours until they could wreck ruin on England.

All that prevented the horrible crime from being executed was the failure on the part of one of the conspirators. Losing heart, one of the men involved wrote a letter to Lord Monteagle. A search was made and the plot was discovered.

Instead of learning from these events, James later sent the Earl of Bristol to Spain to negotiate the marriage of his son Prince Charles to the daughter of Philip. Though it eventually came to nothing, he laid the foundation for the miseries which would later overtake his house and England. Believing that the religion of his subjects was a weakness rather than the strength of his throne, he labored to destroy it; and in so doing, he alienated the nation.

James VI sank to his grave in 1625 and Charles I replaced him as reigning monarch of England. Charles first error was his marriage to the French princess, a member of the Roman Catholic faith. His second was his dismissal of Parliament because they refused to vote him a supply of money until they had been given a redress of grievances. His second parliament was dismissed for the same reason. Then deciding that he could do as well without a parliament, Charles ruled by prerogative alone. Under this arrangement he could tax his subjects whenever and to whatever extent that he chose. Many unjust and severe taxes were levied.

History confirms that civil tyranny cannot maintain itself along side of religious liberty. Whenever it is confronted by liberty of conscience, it must either extinguish that freedom or suffer itself to be extinguished by it. So was the case in the days of Charles.

Bishop Laud

The bishop who was over the diocese of London, Bishop Laud, was a man of remarkable character. Becoming one of Charles’s leading counselors, Laud bent his whole energies to molding the religion of England in the direction of the Roman Church. Candlesticks, tapers, and crucifixes began to appear in the churches. Those clergymen who questioned his policies were subject to fines and imprisonment. He made use of forms of prayer that were taken directly from the Mass Book. In his diary, Laud reveals that the pope twice made him the offer of a red hat.

Superstitious rites replaced the pure scriptural forms of the Reformation, and civil and ecclesiastical tyranny were the rule of the land. Alarm and discontent, along with the smoldering spirit of insurrection, pervaded all of England; but before it resulted in open rebellion, events in Scotland took such a turn as to bring deliverance to both Scotland and England.

The Scottish bishops, in a letter to Laud, expressed their desire to maintain a nearer conformity with the Church of England, confirming that this was also the wish of the people. With Charles, however, the wishes of the people mattered nothing. Rather than condescend to the wishes of the Scottish church, Laud imposed upon them the Liturgy, which upon examination was found to be alarmingly popish in nature. The day fixed for the implementation of  the new services was July 23, 1637.

On that Sunday morning, the reader appeared in the desk of St. Giles’ and went over the usual prayers. Having ended, with tears in his eyes he turned to bid the people good-by, informing them that this was likely the last time he would ever read prayers in the church. At the stated hour, he was followed by the Dean of Edinburgh who appeared to institute the new services. As the dean, Liturgy in hand, worked his way to the desk, the scene became more animated. Scarcely had he begun to read when his composure was shaken by the whiz of a missile passing dangerously close to his ear. Tradition tells us that Janet Geddes, who kept a stall on the High Street, finding nothing more convenient, flung her stool at the dean, with the rebuke, “Villain, dost thou say mass at my lug?” Ibid., 542. The dean hastily shut the obnoxious book and fled with all speed. Thinking that perhaps his greater dignity would effect to gain the reverence of the people, the Bishop of Edinburgh ascended to the desk. His appearance, however, was the signal for a renewed tempest with a ferocity that was greater than the first. He managed to escape, the magistrates escorting him home to protect him from the fury of the mob.

Janet Geddes

If the hatred of the Scottish people had been limited to the unpremeditated outbreaks of the lower classes, the king would have triumphed in the end; but along with these surface demonstrations, there was the strong determined resistance that pervaded all ranks of society. The Privy Council of Scotland, sensing the firm attitude of the nation, sent a representation to the king stating the true feelings of the people. Charles insolently responded by issuing another proclamation, insisting that the Liturgy be used and branding with treason any who opposed it. This expression of tyranny was sufficient to thoroughly arouse the slumbering spirit of the Scots and served to unite them in their opposition.

In the opinion of Charles, nothing remained for him to do but to resort to force. In April 1640, the king summoned Parliament to vote him supplies for a war with the Scots, but they refused to do so. The king then turned to the clergy to raise the necessary funds. The queen addressed a letter to the Roman Catholics who, far from being indifferent spectators, raised a considerable amount of money. As a result, Charles raised an army and marched to the Scottish border.

The Scots, aware of what was taking place, had prepared to meet the invasion. Thirty thousand able-bodied men answered the call to service for their country. Hardly had their preparations been completed when the announcement was made that the English forces were approaching.

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