ePub 版

fears, he was willing to put the administration into the hands of a Protestant regent; but the cominons rejected the proposal, to the inexpressible joy of the duke's party, and ordered the bill of exclusion to be brought in again. In the mean time a motion was made to consider of the loss of the bill in favour of the dissenters last parliament. Sir William Jones said, "The bill was of great moment and service to the country, and might be to their lives, in the time of a Popish successor; but be the bill what it will, the precedent was of the highest consequence; the king has a negative to all bills, but surely the clerk of the parliament has not.If this way be found out, that bills shall be thrown by, it may hereafter be said, they were forgot and laid by, and so we shall never know whether the king passed them or no: if this be suffered, 'tis in vain to spend time here."-In conclusion, this affair was referred to a conference with the house of lords, which was frustrated by the hasty dissolution of the parliament.

The next went upon the libel of one Fitz- Harris, an Irish Papist, which was a second meal-tub plot, promoted in the name of the Nonconformists; the libel was to be sent by penny-post letters to the lords, who had protested in favour of the bill of exclusion, and to the leading men in the house of commons, who were immediately to be apprehended and searched. Everard, who was Fitz-Harris's confidant, and betrayed the secret, affirmed that the king himself was privy to it, as Fitz-Harris's wife averred to a person of worth many years after; that his majesty had given Fitz-Harris money, and promised him more if it met with success. The libel was, to traduce the king and the royal family as Papists, and arbitrarily affected from the beginning, and says, that king Charles I. had a hand in the Irish rebellion; that the act forbidding to call the king a Papist was only to stop men's mouths, and that it was as much in the power of the people to depose a Popish possessor as a Popish successor. It was entitled, The True Englishman speaking plain English; and adds, "If James be conscious and-guilty, Charles is so too; believe me, these two brothers in iniquity are in confederacy with the Pope and the French, to introduce Popery and arbitrary government, and to cast off parliaments, magna charta, and the liberty of the subject, as heavy yokes, and to be as arbitrary as the king of France-Let the English move and rise as one man to self-defence; blow the trumpet, stand on your guard, and withstand them as bears and tigers-Trust to your swords in defence of your lives, liberties, and religion, like the stout earl of old, who told his king, if he could not be defended by magna charta, he would be relieved by longa spada.". He goes on to reproach the king with the breach of his Scots oaths, Breda promises, Protestant profession, liberty of conscience; as designed only to delude Protestants; and puts him in mind of all

* Burnet, p. 303, 304.

his political and moral vices, as intended to debauch the nation, to promote the Popish religion and arbitrary government, &c. Thus were the Nonconformists to be exposed again to the resentments of the nation; but when the sham was discovered to the house of commons by sir William Waller, he received the thanks of the house, and Fitz-Harris, though impeached in parliament, was tried by a jury, and executed with Dr. Plunket, the titular primate of Ireland. The whigs would have saved Fitz-Harris, though a Papist, in hopes of his being an evidence in the Popish plot; but the court was resolved to dispatch him out of the way, that he might tell no more tales.

His majesty, hearing that the bill of exclusion was to be brought into the house again, went suddenly, and not very decently, says Burnet*, to the house of lords in a sedan, with the crown between his feet, and having put on his robes in haste, called up the commons, and dissolved his fifth and last parliament, after they had sat only seven days. As soon as his majesty got out of the house, he posted away in all haste to Windsor, as one that was glad he had got rid of his parliament, which was the last that he ever convened, though he lived three or four years after. And here was an end of the constitution and liberties of England for the present; all that followed, to the king's death, was no more than the convulsions and struggles of a dying man. The king raised what money he wanted without parliaments; he took away all the charters of England, and governed absolutely by dint of prerogative. April the 8th, the king published a declaration + to all his loving subjects, touching the causes and reasons that moved him to dissolve the two last parliaments; and ordered it to be read in all the churches and chapels thoughout England. It contains a recital of his majesty's condescensions for the security of the Protestant religion, as far as was consistent with the succession of the crown in the lineal descent: and a large rehearsal of the unsuitable returns of the commons. But notwithstanding all this, says his majesty, let not those men who are labouring to poison our people with commonwealth principles, persuade any of our subjects that we intend to lay aside the use of parliaments, for we still declare, that no irregularities in parliaments shall make us out of love with them; and we are resolved, by the blessing of God, to have frequent parliaments :" although he never called another. Several anonymous remarks were made upon this declaration, to weaken its influence. But the court used all its interest among the people to support its credit: addresses were sent from all parts, thanking his majesty for his declaration, promising

* Burnet, p. 306.

+ It was observed, Dr. Calamy says, that "this declaration was known by M. Barillon, the French ambassador, and by the the dutchess of Mazarine, sooner than by the king's council, and that it was evidenced to be of French extraction by the Gallicisms in it; and withal it had no broad seal to it, and was signed only by a clerk of the council." Own Life, MS. p. 74.-ED.

to support his person and government with their lives and fortunes. Most of them declared against the bill of exclusion, and for the duke's succession*, as has been observed. Some ventured to arraign the late parliament as guilty of sedition and treason, and to pray his majesty to put in execution the statute of 35 Eliz. against the Nonconformists. The grand juries, the justices at their sessions, divers boroughs and corporations, the companies in towns, and at last the very apprentices, sent up addresses. Those who presented or procured them were well treated at court, and some of them knighted. Many zealous healths were drank, and in their cups the swaggerings of the old cavaliers seemed to be revived. One of the most celebrated addresses was from the university of Cambridge, presented by Dr. Gower, master of St. John's, which I shall give the reader as a specimen of the rest. It begins thus: "Sacred sir! We your majesty's most faithful and obedient subjects have long, with the greatest and sincerest joy, beheld the generous emulation of our fellow-subjects, contending who should best express their duty to their sovereign at this time, when the seditious endeavours of unreasonable men have made it necessary to assert the ancient loyalty of the English nation. It is at present the great honour of this your university, not only to be steadfast and constant in our duty, but to be eminently so, and to suffer for it as much as the calumnies and reproaches of factious and malicious men can inflict upon us. And that they have not proceeded to sequestration and plunder, as heretofore, next to the overruling providence of Almighty God, is only due to the royal care and prudence of your most sacred majesty, who gave so seasonable a check to their arbitrary and insolent undertakings.-We still believe and maintain, that our kings derive not their power from the people but from God; that to him only they are accountable; that it belongs not to subjects either to create or censure, but to honour and obey their sovereign, who comes to be so by a fundamental, hereditary right of succession, which no religion, no law, no fault or forfeiture, can alter or diminish; nor will we abate of our well instructed zeal for the church of England as by law established.-Thus we have learned our own, and thus we teach others their duty to God and the king."-His majesty discovered an unusual satisfaction on this occasion; and, having returned them thanks, was pleased to add, that no other church in the world taught and practised loyalty so conscientiously as they did.

As such abject and servile flattery could not fail of pleasing the king, it must necessarily draw down vengeance on the Nonconformists, who joined in none of their addresses, but were doomed to suffer under a double character, as whigs and as dissenters. "This," says bishop Burnett, "was set on by the Papists, and it was wisely done of them, for they knew how much

Burnet, vol. 2. p. 308, 309.

† Page 306.

the Nonconformists were set against them. They made use, also, of the indiscreet zeal of the high-church clergymen to ruin them, which they knew would render the clergy odious, and give the Papist great advantage when opportunity offered." The times were boisterous and stormy; sham plots were contrived, and warrants issued against the leaders of the whig party for seditious language; Shaftesbury, now called the Protestant earl, was sent to the Tower, and Stephen College, the Protestant joiner, was carried to Oxford, and hanged, after the grand jury in London had brought in a bill of indictment against him ignoramus. Witnesses were imported from Ireland, and employed to swear away men's lives. The court intended to set them to swear against all the hot party, which was plainly murder in them who believed them false witnesses," says Burnet *, "and yet made use of them to destroy others." Spies were planted in all coffeehouses, to furnish out evidence for the witnesses. Mercenary justices were put into commission all over the kingdom; juries were packed; and, with regard to the Nonconformists, informers of the vilest of the people were countenanced to a shameful degree, insomuch that the jails were quickly filled with prisoners, and large sums of money extorted from the industrious and conscientious, and played into the hands of the most profligate wretches in the nation.

The justices of Middlesex shewed great forwardness, and represented to his majesty in December, "that an intimation of his pleasure was necessary at this time, to the putting the laws in execution against conventicles, because when a charge was lately given at the council-board to put the laws in execution against Popish recusants, no mention was made of suppressing conventicles." Upon this his majesty commanded the lordmayor, aldermen, and justices, to use their utmost endeavour to suppress all conventicles and unlawful meetings, upon pretence of religious worship; for it was his express pleasure, that the laws be effectually put in execution against them, both in city and country. Accordingly the justices of peace at their sessions at Hickes's-hall, January 13, ordered, "that whereas the constables and churchwardens, &c. of every parish and precinct within the said county, had been enjoined last sessions to make a return the first of this, of the names of the preachers in conventicles, and the most considerable frequenters of the same within their several limits; which order not being obeyed, but contemned by some, it was therefore by the justices then assembled desired, that the lord-bishop of London will please to direct those officers which are under his jurisdiction, to use their utmost diligence, that all such persons may be excommunicated, who commit crimes deserving the ecclesiastical censure; and that the said excommunications may be published in the parishes where the

* Page 315.

persons live, that they may be taken notice of, and be obvious to the penalties that belong to persons excommunicate, viz. not to be admitted for a witness, or returned upon juries, or capable of suing for any debt." They farther ordered at the same time, "that the statute of the first of Eliz. and third of king James, be put in due execution, for the levying of twelve-pence per Sunday upon such persons who repaired not to divine service and sermons at their parish or some other public church." All which, says Mr. Echard, made way for all sorts of prosecutions both in city and country, which in many places were carried on with great spite and severity, where there never wanted busy agents and informers, of which a few were sufficient to put the laws in execution; so that the dissenters this year and much longer, says he, met with cruel and unchristian usage; which occasioned great complaints among the people, and some severe reflections on the king himself.

It was not in the power of the church-whigs to relieve the Nonconformists, nor screen them from the edge of the penal laws, which were in the hands of their enemies. All that could be done was to encourage their constancy, and to write some compassionate treatises to move the people in their favour, by shewing them, that while they were plundering and destroying their Protestant dissenting neighbours, they were cutting the throat of the reformed religion, and making way for the triumphs of Popery upon its ruins. Among other writings of this sort, the most famous was, The Conformists' Plea for the Nonconformists, in four parts, by a beneficed minister and a regular son of the church of England. In which the author undertakes to shew, 1. The greatness of their sufferings. 2. The hardships of their case. 3. The reasonableness and equity of their proposals for union. 4. The qualifications and worth of their ministers. 5. Their peaceable behaviour. 6. Their agreement with the church of England in the articles of her faith. 7. The prejudice to the church by their exclusion; and then concludes, with the infamous lives, and lamentable deaths, of several of the informers. It was a sensible and moving performance, but had no influence on the tory justices, and tribe of informers. There was no stemming the tide; every one who was not a furious tory, says Rapin, was reputed a Presbyterian.

Most of the clergy were with the court, and distinguished themselves on the side of persecution. The pulpits everywhere resounded with the doctrines of passive obedience and nonresistance, which were carried to all the heights of king Charles I. No eastern monarch, according to them, was more absolute than the king of England*. They expressed such a zeal for the duke's succession, as if a Popish king over a Protestant country had been a special blessing from heaven. They likewise gave

[ocr errors][merged small]
« 上一頁繼續 »