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body in the Banqueting House at Whitehall. As they were sitting very melancholy there, about two o’clock in the morning, they heard the tread of somebody coming very slowly upstairs. By-and-by the door opened, and a man entered very much muflled up in his cloak, and his face quite hid in it. He approached the body, considered it very attentively for some time, and then shook his head—sighed out the words, ‘ Cruel necessity!’ He then departed in the same slow and concealed manner as he had come. Lord Southhampton used to say that he could not distinguish anything of his face, but that by his voice and gait he took him to be Oliver Cromwell.”
Whether there was indeed any such necessity may be disputed for ever, as well as that other question whether the army had a right to force on the trial and execution in the teeth of the positive law of the land. The main issue was whether, whatever positive law might say, a king was not bound by the necessities of his position to be the representative of the nation, acting on its behalf, merging his own interests in those of his people, refusing to coerce them by foreign armies, and owing to them, whenever it became prudent to speak at all, the duty of uttering words of simple truth. So Elizabeth had acted : so Bacon had taught. That
Charles’s own conduct was moulded on far different'
principles it is impossible to deny. Confidence in his
own wisdom was inherent in his nature, and there is
no reason to doubt that he soberly believed his critics and antagonists to be so heated by faction that he was actually unable to do his best for the nation as well as for himself unless he called foreign armies to his aid, and raised false expectations in the hope of throwing off each party with whom he was treating, as soon as a convenient opportunity arrived. Such an attitude could not but engender resistance, and when long persisted in, necessarily called forth an attitude equally unbending. That which to Cromwell was at one time a cruel necessity—at another time a decree of Providence—was but the natural result of the offence given by Charles to men who required plain dealing in a ruler from whom nothing but illconcealed deceitfulness was to be had. The final struggle had come to be mainly one over the King’s retention of the Negative Voice, which, if he had been permitted to retain it, would enable him to hinder all new legislation which did not conform to his personal wishes. No doubt he had both law and tradition on his side, but, on the other hand, his antagonists could plead that the law of the land must depend on the resolution, not of a single person, but of the nation itself.
“Fortunately or unfortunately,” I can but repeat here what I have already said elsewhere, “such abstract considerations seldom admit of direct application to politics. It is at all times hard to discover what the wishes of a nation really are, and least of all can this be done amidst the fears and passions ofa revolutionary struggle. Only after long years does a nation make clear its definite resolves, and, for this reason, wise statesmen—whethermonarchical or republican—watch the currents of opinion, and submit to compromises which will enable the national sentiment to make its way without a succession of violent shocks. Charles’s fault lay not so much in his claim to retain the Negative Voice, as in his absolute disregard of the conditions of the time, and of the feelings and opinions of every class of his subjects with which he happened to disagree. Even if those who opposed Charles in the later stages of his career failed to rally the majority of the people to their side, they were undoubtedly acting in accordance with a permanent national demand for that government by compromise which slowly, but irresistibly, developed itself in the course of the century. “Nor can it be doubted that, if Charles had, under any conditions, been permitted to reseat himself on the throne, he would quickly have provoked a new resistance. As long as he remained a factor in English politics, government by compromise was impossible. His own conception of government was that of a wise prince, constantly interfering to check the madness of the people. In the Isle of Wight he wrote down with approval the lines in which Claudian, the servile poet of the Court of Honorius, declared it to be an error to give the name of slavery to the service of the best of princes, and asserted that liberty never had a greater charm than under a pious king. Even on the scaffold he reminded his subjects that a share in government was nothing appertaining to the people. It was the tragedy of Charles’s life that he was utterly unable to satisfy the cravings of those who inarticulately hoped for the establishment of a monarchy which, while it kept up the old traditions of the country, and thus saved England from a blind plunge into an unknown future, would yet allow the people of the country to be to some extent masters of their own destiny.
“Yet if Charles persistently alienated this large and important section of his subjects, so also did his most determined opponents. The very merits of the Independents—their love of toleration and of legal and political reform, together with their advocacy of democratic change—raised opposition in a nation which was prepared for none of these things, and drove them step by step to rely on armed strength rather than upon the free play of constitutional action. But for this, it is probable that the Vote of No Addresses would have received a practically unanimous support in the Parliament and the nation, and that in the beginning of 1648 Charles would have been dethroned, and a new government of some kind or other established with some hope of success. As it
was, in their despair of constitutional support, the
Independents were led, in spite of their better feelings, to the employment of the army as an instrument of government.
“The situation, complicated enough already, had been still further complicated by Charles’s duplicity. Men who would have been willing to come to terms with him despaired of any constitutional arrangement in which he was to be a factor, and men who had been long alienated from him were irritated into active hostility. By these he was regarded with increasing intensity as the one disturbing force with which no understanding was possible and no settled order consistent. To remove him out of the way appeared, even to those who had no thought of punishing him for past offences, to be the only possible road to peace for the troubled nation. It seemed that, so long as Charles lived, deluded nations and deluded parties would be stirred up by promises never intended to be fulfilled, to fling themselves, as they had flung themselves in the Second Civil War, against the new order of things which was struggling to establish itself in
mouthpiece. ‘Himself a man of compromises, he had been thrust, sorely against his will, into direct antagonism with the uncompromising King. He had striven long to mediate between the old order and the new first by restoring Charles as a constitutional