« AnteriorContinuar »
simple member of the House, for doing more. We can indeed only conjecture, though with tolerable certitude, that he was well pleased with the widening of the breach between the Presbyterians and the King, caused by the determination of Charles to make no stipulation which would lead to the abolition of episcopacy. Nor can he have been otherwise than well pleased when, on January 30, 1647, the Scottish soldiers, having received part of the sum due to them for their services in England with promise of the remainder, marched for Scotland, having first delivered Charles over to commissioners appointed by the English Parliament, who conducted him to Holmby House in Northamptonshire, which had been assigned to him by Parliament as a residence.
At last the time had arrived when a peaceful settlement of the distracted country appeared to have come in sight and, for the time at least, the Presbyterians seemed to have the strongest cards in their hands. They had a majority in Parliament, and it was for them, therefore, to formulate the principles on which y the future institutions of the country were to be built. That the country was with them in wishing, on the one hand, for an arrangement in which the King could reappear as a constitutional factor in the Government, and, on the other hand, for a total or partial disbandment of the army and a consequent relief from taxation, can hardly be denied. The great weakness,
and, as it proved, the insuperable weakness of the Presbyterians lay in the incapacity of their leaders to understand the characters of the men with whom they had to deal. Right as they were in their opinion that the nation would readily accept a constitutional monarchy, it was impossible to persuade them, as was really the case, that Charles would never willingly submit to be bound by the limitations of constitutional monarchy, and still less to allow, longer than he could possibly help, the Church to be modelled after any kind of Presbyterian system. That he had the strongest possible conviction on religious grounds that episcopacy was of Divine ordinance is beyond doubt, and on this point his tenacious, though irresolute, mind was strengthened by an assurance that in fighting in the cause of the bishops he was really fighting in the cause of God. Yet the controversy had a political as well as a religious side. In Scotland Presbyterianism meant the predominance of the clergy. In England it would mean the predominance of the country nobility and gentry, who, either in their private capacity or collectively in Parliament, presented to benefices, and in Parliament kept the final control over the Church in their own hands. Episcopacy, on the other hand, meant that the control over the Church was in the hands of men appointed by the King.
The folly of the Presbyterians appeared, not in their maintenance of their own views, but in their fancying that if they could only persuade Charles to agree to give them their way temporarily, they would have done sufficient to gain their cause. Early in 1647 they proposed that Presbyterian ism should be established in England for three years, and that the militia should remain in the power of Parliament for ten. They could not see that at the end of the periods fixed Charles would have the immense advantage of finding himself face to face with a system which had ceased to have any legal sanction. Common prudence suggested that whatever settlement was arrived at it should, at least, have in favour of its continuance the presumption of permanency accorded to every established institution which is expected to remain in possession of the field till definite steps are taken for its abolition.
It is possible indeed that the Presbyterians calculated on the unpopularity of episcopacy and of all that episcopacy was likely to bring with it. It is true that not even an approximate estimate can be given of the numerical strength of ecclesiastical parties No religious census was taken, and there is every reason to believe that, if it had been taken, it would have failed to convey any accurate information There is little doubt that very considerable numbers probably much more than a bare majority of the population, either did not care for ecclesiastical disputes at all, or at least did not care for them sufficiently to offer armed resistance to any form of ChurchGovernment or Church-teaching likely to be established either by Parliament or by King. Yet all the evidence we possess shows the entire absence of any popular desire amongst the laity outside the families of the Royalist gentry and their immediate dependants to bring back either episcopacy or the Prayer Book. Riots there occasionally were, but these were riots because amusements had been stopped, and especially because the jollity of Christmas was forbidden; not because the service in church was conducted in one way or another. It is sometimes forgotten that the Puritan or semi-Puritan clergy had a strong hold upon the Church down to the days of Laud, and that the Calvinistic teaching which had been in favour even with the bishops towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth had been widely spread down to the same time, so that the episcopalians could not count on that resistance to organic change which would certainly have sprung up if the Laudian enforcement of discipline had continued for seventy years instead of seven.
Whilst episcopacy found its main support in the King, the sects found their main support in the army, and Parliament at once fell in with the popular demand for weakening the army. Before February was over, it had resolved that 6,600 horse and dragoons should be retained in England, but that, except the men needed for a few garrisons, none of the infantry of the New Model Army should be kept in the service. Their place was to be supplied by a militia which, consisting as it did of civilians pursuing their usual avocations for the greater part of the year, and, except in times of invasion or rebellion, only called out for a few days' drill, would be most unlikely to join in any attempt to cross the wishes of Parliament. Cavalry, moreover, being, in the long run, unable to act without the support of infantry, the 6,600 horse kept on foot would be powerless to impose a policy by force on the Parliament. As more than half of the infantry, whose services in England were no longer required, would be needed to carry on the war in Ireland, now almost entirely in the hands of the socalled rebels, it was thought that the number necessary for this purpose would volunteer for service in that country, and the rest be readily induced to return amongst the civilian population out of which they had sprung.
Having thus, in imagination, weakened the army as a whole, the Presbyterian majority proceeded to deal with the officers of the cavalry destined for service in England. Retaining Fairfax as Commander-in-Chief, they voted that no officer should serve under him who refused to take the Covenant, and to conform to the Church-government established by Parliament. They