Gateway to the Classics: Charles I by Jacob Abbott
Charles I by  Jacob Abbott

The Captivity

T HE circumstances of King Charles's surrender to the Scots were these. he knew that he was surrounded by his enemies in Oxford, and that they would not allow him to escape if they could prevent it. He and his friends, therefore, formed the following plan to elude them.

They sent word to the commanders of each of the several gates of the city, on a certain day, that during the ensuing night three men would have to pass out on business of the king's, and that when the men should appear and give a certain signal, they were to be allowed to pass. The officer at each gate received this command without knowing that a similar one had been sent to the others.



Accordingly, about midnight, the parties of men were dispatched, and they went out at the several gates. The king himself was in one of these parties. There were two other persons with him. One of these persons was a certain Mr. Ashburnham, and the king was disguised as his servant. They were all on horseback, and the king had a valise upon the horse behind him, so as to complete his disguise. This was on the 27th of April. The next day, or very soon after, it was known at Oxford that his majesty was gone, but no one could tell in what direction, for there was no means even of deciding by which of the gates he had left the city.

The Scotch were, at this time, encamped before the town of Newark, which is on the Trent, in the heart of England, and about one hundred and twenty miles north of London. There was a magnificent castle at Newark in those days, which made the place very strong. The town held out for the king; though the Scots had been investing it for some time, they had not yet succeeded in compelling the governor to surrender. The king concluded to proceed to Newark and enter the Scottish camp. He considered it, or, rather, wished it to be considered that he was coming to join them as their monarch. They were going to consider it surrendering to them as their prisoner. The king himself must have known how it would be, but it made his sense of humiliation a little less poignant to carry this illusion with him as long as it was possible to maintain it.

As soon as the Parliament found that the king had made his escape from Oxford, they were alarmed, and on the 4th of May they issued an order to this effect, "That what person soever should harbor and conceal, or should know of the harboring or concealing of the king's person, and should not immediately reveal it to the speakers of both houses, should be proceeded against as a traitor to the Commonwealth, and die without mercy." The proclamation of this order, however, did not result in arresting the flight of the king. On the day after it was issued, he arrived safely at Newark.

The Scottish general, whose name was Lesley, immediately represented to the king that for his own safety it was necessary that they should retire toward the northern frontier; but they could not so retire, he said, unless Newark should first surrender. They accordingly induced the king to send in orders to the governor of the castle to give up the place. The Scots took possession of it, and, after having garrisoned it, moved with their army toward the north, the king and General Lesley being in the van.

They treated the king with great distinction, but guarded him very closely, and sent word to the Parliament that he was in their possession. There ensued long negotiations and much debate. The question was, at first, whether the English or Scotch should have the disposal of the king's person. The English said that they, and not the Scots, were the party making war upon him; that they had conquered his armies, and hemmed him in, and reduced him to the necessity of submission; and that he had been taken captive on English soil, and ought, consequently, to be delivered into the hands of the English Parliament. The Scots replied that though he had been taken in England, he was their king as well as the king of England, and had made himself their enemy; and that, as he had fallen into their hands, he ought to remain at their disposal. To this the English rejoined, that the Scots, in taking him, had not acted on their own account, but as the allies, and, as it were, the agents of the English, and that they ought to consider the king as a captive taken for them, and hold him subject to their disposal.

They could not settle the question. In the mean time the Scottish army drew back toward the frontier, taking the king with them. About this time a negotiation sprung up between the Parliament and the Scots for the payment of the expenses which the Scottish army had incurred in their campaign. The Scots sent in an account amounting to two millions of pounds. The English objected to a great many of the charges, and offered them two hundred thousand pounds. Finally it was settled that four hundred thousand pounds should be paid. This arrangement was made early in September. In January the Scots agreed to give up the king into the hands of the English Parliament.

The world accused the Scots of selling their king to his enemies for four hundred thousand pounds. The Scots denied that there was any connection between the two transactions above referred to. They received the money on account of their just claims; and they afterward agreed to deliver up the king, because they thought it right and proper so to do. The friends of the king, however, were never satisfied that there was not a secret understanding between the parties, that the money paid was not the price of the king's delivery; and as this delivery resulted in his death, they called it the price of blood.

Charles was at Newcastle when they came to this decision. His mind had been more at ease since his surrender to the Scots, and he was accustomed to amuse himself and while away the time of his captivity by various games. He was playing chess when the intelligence was brought to him that he was to be delivered up to the English Parliament. It was communicated to him in a letter. He read it, and then went on with his game, and none of those around him could perceive by his air and manner that the intelligence which the letter contained was any thing extraordinary. Perhaps he was not aware of the magnitude of the change in his condition and prospects which the communication announced.

There was at this time, at a town called Holmby or Holdenby, in Northamptonshire, a beautiful palace which was known by the name of Holmby House. King Charles's mother had purchased this palace for him when he was the Duke of York, in the early part of his life, while his father, King James, was on the throne, and his older brother was the heir apparent. It was a very stately and beautiful edifice. The house was fitted up in a very handsome manner, and all suitable accommodations provided for the king's reception. He had many attendants, and every desirable convenience and luxury of living; but, though the war was over, there was still kept up between the king and his enemies a petty contest about forms and punctilios, which resulted from the spirit of intolerance which characterized the age. The king wanted his own Episcopal chaplains. The Parliament would not consent to this, but sent him two Presbyterian chaplains. The king would not allow them to say grace at the table, but performed this duty himself; and on the Sabbath, when they preached in his chapel, he never would attend.

One singular instance of this sort of bigotry, and of the king's presence of mind under the action of it, took place while the king was at Newcastle. They took him one day to the chapel in the castle to hear a Scotch Presbyterian who was preaching to the garrison. The Scotchman preached a long discourse pointed expressly at the king. Those preachers prided themselves on the fearlessness with which, on such occasions, they discharged what they called their duty. To cap the climax of his faithfulness, the preacher gave out, at the close of the sermon, the hymn, thus: "We will sing the fifty-first Psalm:

"'Why dost thou, tyrant, boast thyself,

Thy wicked works to praise!'"

As the congregation were about to commence the singing, the king cast his eye along the page, and found in the fifty-sixth hymn one which he thought would be more appropriate. He rose, and said, in a very audible manner, "We will sing the fifty-sixth  Psalm:

"'Have mercy, Lord, on me I pray,

For men would me devour.'"

The congregation, moved by a sudden impulse of religious generosity extremely unusual in those days, immediately sang the psalm which the king had chosen.

While he was at Holmby the king used sometimes to go, escorted by a guard, to certain neighboring villages where there were bowling-greens. One day, while he was going on one of these excursions, a man, in the dress of a laborer, appeared standing on a bridge as he passed, and handed him a packet. The commissioners who had charge of Charles—for some of them always attended him on these excursions—seized the man. The packet was from the queen. The king told the commissioners that the letter was only to ask him some question about the disposal of his son, the young prince, who was then with her in Paris. They seemed satisfied, but they sent the disguised messenger to London, and the Parliament committed him to prison, and sent down word to dismiss all Charles's own attendants, and to keep him thenceforth in more strict confinement.

In the mean time, the Parliament, having finished the war, were ready to disband the army. But the army did not wish to be disbanded. They would not be disbanded. The officers knew very well that if their troops were dismissed, and they were to return to their homes as private citizens, all their importance would be gone. There followed long debates and negotiations between the army and the Parliament, which ended, at last, in an open rupture. It is almost always so at the end of a revolution. The military power is found to have become too strong for the civil institutions of the country to control it.

Oliver Cromwell, who afterward became so distinguished in the days of the Commonwealth, was at this time becoming the most influential leader of the army. He was not the commander-in-chief in form, but he was the great planner and manager in fact. He was a man of great sternness and energy of character, and was always ready for the most prompt and daring action. He conceived the design of seizing the king's person at Holmby, so as to take him away from the control of the Parliament, and transfer him to that of the army. This plan was executed on the 4th of June, about two months after the king had been taken to Holmby House. The abduction was effected in the following manner.

Cromwell detached a strong party of choice troops, under the command of an officer by the name of Joyce, to carry the plan into effect. These troops were all horsemen, so that their movements could be made with the greatest celerity. They arrived at Holmby House at midnight. The cornet, for that was the military title by which Joyce was designated, drew up his horsemen about the palace, and demanded entrance. Before his company arrived, however, there had been an alarm that they were coming, and the guards had been doubled. The officers in command asked the cornet what was his name and business. He replied that he was Cornet Joyce, and that his business was to speak to the king. They asked him by whom he was sent, and he replied that he was sent by himself, and that he must and would see the king. They then commanded their soldiers to stand by their arms, and be ready to fire when the word should be given. They, however, perceived that Joyce and his force were a detachment from the army to which they themselves belonged, and concluding to receive them as brothers, they opened the gates and let them in.

The cornet stationed sentinels at the doors of those apartments of the castle which were occupied by the Scotch commissioners who had the king in charge, and then went himself directly to the king's chamber. He had a pistol loaded and cocked in his hand. He knocked at the door. There were four grooms in waiting: they rebuked him for making such a disturbance at that time of the night, and told him that he should wait until the morning if he had any communication to make to the king.

The cornet would not accede to this proposition, but knocked violently at the door, the servants being deterred from interfering by dread of the loaded pistol, and by the air and manner of their visitor, which told them very plainly that he was not to be trifled with. The king finally heard the disturbance, and, on learning the cause, sent out word that Joyce must go away and wait till morning, for he would not get up to see him at that hour. The cornet, as one of the historians of the time expresses it, "huffed and retired." The next morning he had an interview with the king.

When he was introduced to the king's apartment in the morning, the king said that he wished to have the Scotch commissioners present at the interview. Joyce replied that the commissioners had nothing to do now but to return to the Parliament at London. The king then said that he wished to see his instructions. The cornet replied that he would show them to him, and he sent out to order his horsemen to parade in the inner court of the palace, where the king could see them from his windows; and then, pointing them out to the king, he said, "These, sir, are my instructions." The king, who, in all the trials and troubles of his life of excitement and danger, took every thing quietly and calmly looked at the men attentively. They were fine troops, well mounted and armed. He then turned to the cornet, and said, with a smile, that "his instructions were in fair characters, and could be read without spelling." The cornet then said that his orders were to take the king away with him. The king declined going, unless the commissioners went too. The cornet made no objection, saying that the commissioners might do as they pleased about accompanying him, but that he himself must go.

The party set off from Holmby and traveled two days, stopping at night at the houses of friends to their cause. They reached Cambridge, where the leading officers of the army received the king, rendering him every possible mark of deference and respect. From Cambridge he was conducted by the leaders of the army from town to town, remaining sometimes several days at a place. He was attended by a strong guard, and was treated every where with the utmost consideration and honor. He was allowed some little liberty, in riding out and in amusements, but every precaution was taken to prevent the possibility of an escape.

The people collected every where into the places through which he had to pass, and his presence-chamber was constantly thronged. This was not altogether on account of their respect and veneration for him as king, but it arose partly from a very singular cause. There is a certain disease called the scrofula, which in former times had the name of the King's Evil. It is a very unmanageable and obstinate disorder, resisting all ordinary modes of treatment; but in the days of King Charles, it was universally believed by the common people of England, that if a king  touched a patient afflicted with this disease, he would recover. This was the reason why it was called the king's evil. It was the evil that kings only could cure. Now, as kings seldom traveled much about their dominions, whenever one did make such a journey, the people embraced the opportunity to bring all the cases which could possibly be considered as scrofula to the line of his route, in order that he might touch the persons afflicted and heal them.

In the course of the summer the king was conducted to Hampton Court, a beautiful palace on the Thames, a short distance above London. Here he remained for some time. He had an interview here with two of his children. The oldest son was still in France. The two whom he saw here were the Duke of Gloucester and the Princess Elizabeth. He found that they were under the care of a nobleman of high rank, and that they were treated with great consideration. Charles was extremely gratified and pleased with seeing these members of his family again, after so long a separation. His feelings of domestic affection were very strong.

The king remained at Hampton Court two or three months. While he was there, London, and all the region about it, was kept in a continual state of excitement by the contentions of the army and Parliament, and the endless negotiations which they attempted with each other and with the king. During all this time the king was in a sort of elegant and honorable imprisonment in his palace at Hampton Court; but he found the restraints to which he was subjected, and the harassing cares which the contests between these two great powers brought upon him, so great, that he determined to make his escape from the thraldom which bound him. He very probably thought that he could again raise his standard, and collect an army to fight in his cause. Or perhaps he thought of making his escape from the country altogether. It is not improbable that he was not decided himself which of these plans to pursue, but left the question to be determined by the circumstances in which he should find himself when he had regained his freedom.

At any rate, he made his escape. One evening, about ten o'clock, attendants came into his room at Hampton Court, and found that he had gone. There were some letters upon the table which he had left, directed to the Parliament, to the general of the army, and to the officer who had guarded him at Hampton Court. The king had left the palace an hour or two before. He passed out at a private door, which admitted him to a park connected with the palace. He went through the park by a walk which led down to the water, where there was a boat ready for him. He crossed the river in the boat, and on the opposite shore he found several officers and some horses ready to receive him. He mounted one of the horses, and the party rode rapidly away.

They traveled all night, and arrived, toward morning, at the residence of a countess on whose attachment to him, and fidelity, he placed great reliance. The countess concealed him in her house, though it was understood by all concerned that this was only a temporary place of refuge. He could not long be concealed here, and her residence was not provided with any means of defense; so that, immediately on their arrival at the countess's, the king and the few friends who were with him began to concert plans for a more secure retreat.

The house of the countess was on the southern coast of England, near the Isle of Wight. There was a famous castle in those days upon this island, near the center of it, called Carisbrooke Castle. The ruins of it, which are very extensive, still remain. This castle was under the charge of Colonel Hammond, who was at that time governor of the island. Colonel Hammond was a near relative of one of King Charles's chaplains, and the king thought it probable that he would espouse his cause. He accordingly sent two of the gentlemen who had accompanied him to the Isle of Wight to see Colonel Hammond, and inquire of him whether he would receive and protect the king if he would come to him. But he charged them not to let Hammond know where he was, unless he would first solemnly promise to protect him, and not subject him to any restraint.


Carisbrooke Castle.

The messengers went, and, to the king's surprise, brought back Hammond with them. The king asked them whether they had got his written promise to protect him. They answered no, but that they could depend upon him as a man of honor. The king was alarmed. "Then you have betrayed me," said he, "and I am his prisoner." The messengers were then, in their turn, alarmed at having thus disappointed and displeased the king, and they offered to kill Hammond on the spot, and to provide some other means of securing the king's safety. The king, however, would not sanction any such proceeding, but put himself under Hammond's charge, and was conveyed to Carisbrooke Castle. He was received with every mark of respect, but was very carefully guarded. It was about the middle of November that these events took place.

Hammond notified the Parliament that King Charles was in his hands, and sent for directions from them as to what he should do. Parliament required that he should be carefully guarded, and they appropriated £5000 for the expenses of his support. The king remained in this confinement more than a year, while the Parliament and the army were struggling for the possession of the kingdom.

He spent his time, during this long period, in various pursuits calculated to beguile the weary days, and he sometimes planned schemes for escape. There were also a great many fruitless negotiations attempted between the king and the Parliament, which resulted in nothing but to make the breach between them wider and wider. Sometimes the king was silent and depressed. At other times he seemed in his usual spirits. He read serious books a great deal, and wrote. There is a famous book, which was found in manuscript after his death among his papers, in his handwriting, which it is supposed he wrote at this time. He was allowed to take walks upon the castle wall, which was very extensive, and he had some other amusements which served to occupy his leisure time. He found his confinement, however, in spite of all these mitigations, wearisome and hard to bear.

There were some schemes attempted to enable him to regain his liberty. There was one very desperate attempt. It seems that Hammond, suspecting that the king was plotting an escape, dismissed the king's own servants and put others in their places—persons in whom he supposed he could more implicitly rely. One of these men, whose name was Burley, was exasperated at being thus dismissed. He went through the town of Carisbrooke, beating a drum, and calling upon the people to rise and rescue their sovereign from his captivity. The governor of the castle, hearing of this, sent out a small body of men, arrested Burley, and hanged and quartered him. The king was made a close prisoner immediately after this attempt.

Notwithstanding this, another attempt was soon made by the king himself, which came much nearer succeeding. There was a man by the name of Osborne, whom Hammond employed as a personal attendant upon the king. He was what was called gentleman usher. The king succeeded in gaining this person's favor so much by his affability and his general demeanor, that one day he put a little paper into one of the king's gloves, which it was a part of his office to hold on certain occasions, and on this paper he had written that he was at the king's service. At first Charles was afraid that this offer was only a treacherous one, but at length he confided in him. In the mean time, there was a certain man by the name of Rolf in the garrison, who conceived the design of enticing the king away from the castle on the promise of promoting his escape, and then murdering him. Rolf thought that this plan would please the Parliament, and that he himself, and those who should aid him in the enterprise, would be rewarded. He proposed this scheme to Osborne, and asked him to join in the execution of it.

Osborne made the whole plan known to the king. The king, on reflection, said to Osborne, "Very well; continue in communication with Rolf, and help him mature his plan. Let him thus aid in getting me out of the castle, and we will make such arrangements as to prevent the assassination." Osborne did so. He also gained over some other soldiers who were employed as sentinels near the place of escape. Osborne and Rolf furnished the king with a saw and a file, by means of which he sawed off some iron bars which guarded one of his windows. They were then, on a certain night, to be ready with a few attendants on the outside to receive the king as he descended, and convey him away.

In the mean time, Rolf and Osborne had each obtained a number of confederates, those of the former supposing that the plan was to assassinate the king, while those of the latter understood that the plan was to assist him in escaping from captivity. Certain expressions which were dropped by one of this latter class alarmed Rolf, and led him to suspect some treachery. He accordingly took the precaution to provide a number of armed men, and to have them ready at the window, so that he should be sure to be strong enough to secure the king immediately on his descent from the window. When the time came for the escape, the king, before getting out, looked below, and, seeing so many armed men, knew at once that Rolf had discovered their designs, and refused to descend. He quickly returned to his bed. The next day the bars were found filed in two, and the king was made a closer prisoner than ever.

Some months after this, some commissioners from Parliament went to see the king, and they found him in a most wretched condition. His beard was grown, his dress was neglected, his health was gone, his hair was gray, and, though only forty-eight years of age, he appeared as decrepit and infirm as a man of seventy. In fact, he was in a state of misery and despair. Even the enemies who came to visit him, though usually stern and hard-hearted enough to withstand any impressions, were extremely affected at the sight.

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