Gateway to the Classics: Stories From English History, Book II by Alfred J. Church
Stories From English History, Book II by  Alfred J. Church

King Or Parliament?

It would take very long, and would bring us into a number of very difficult subjects, to explain the causes of what is commonly called "The Great Rebellion," the war between the Parliament and the King. King James, and King Charles after him, tried to rule more absolutely than the English people were willing to endure. Elizabeth, it is true, was always fond of having her own way, but she knew when she had to yield. This was exactly what King Charles did not know. This was one cause of his troubles; another was the bad advisers whom he had about him.

The worst of these was his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. I have already described how he courted a Spanish princess, and how the match was broken off. On his way to Spain he had passed through Paris. When the Princess Henrietta, youngest daughter of King Henry IV., heard the story of his adventures, she said, "The Prince of Wales need not have gone so far as Madrid to look for a wife." The Queen of Spain herself, another daughter of King Henry's, had told him that he had better think of her sister Henrietta. This time the Prince did not go courting in person. He sent his portrait, and King James his father sent ambassadors. The Princess was very much pleased with the likeness, and the ambassadors made an agreement by which too much was yielded. So the Princess became Charles' wife, and, as I have said, proved to be a very bad adviser.

His other counsellors were not much wiser. There were more honest men than those whom King James had about him, but they were more unpopular. Foremost among these was Archbishop Laud, a learned and pious man indeed, but who offended many people both by his conduct and his opinions.


Charles I. and Armour Bearer.

The worst piece of advice that was given him—and it was all the more harmful because it fell in with his own ways of thinking—was that he should try to govern without a Parliament. Three Parliaments were called together during the years 1625—1629, and quickly dissolved, because they would not do what the King wished. Then for eleven years, 1629—1640, there was no Parliament, the King raising money by ways that were against law, or, if not actually against law, had been out of use for so long that they seemed to be so. In 1640 the Parliament called the Long Parliament met. Some things that it did were right and necessary, some were doubtful, some clearly beyond its powers. Very likely it would have been more moderate than it was if the King could have been trusted to keep his word. Unfortunately he could not. Anyhow, things went on from bad to worse. It was on August 22, 1642, that the war began. On that day the King set up his standard at Nottingham.

At first the Royalists, as the King's party are commonly called, were stronger than their adversaries. The larger part of England was with them. We may say that every town and every village was divided; even in families there were some that took one side while others took the other; but generally the west of England took the King's part and the east took the Parliament's. A recent writer says, "Roughly speaking, a line drawn from Hull to Weymouth would divide England into a large Royalist half, and a smaller Parliamentarian half, as things were just after the war had begun. The extreme north was for the King, but Lancashire favoured the Parliament." London was for the Parliament, and had a great deal to do with its final success. It must be remembered that there was no regular army, and that only few Englishmen had had any experience of soldiering. Some had taken service with foreign princes or countries. Most of these were on the Royalist side, and generally King Charles's men were better suited for soldiers than their adversaries. In one thing they were certainly superior, they knew better how to ride, for most of the latter came from the towns. On the other hand, the then London militia, or "train-bands" as they were called, had some discipline and practice in arms.

The most experienced general on either side was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, son of the Earl of Essex who was put to death by Elizabeth. He had seen a good deal of service on the Continent. He fought for the Parliament, yet after all he did not distinguish himself very much. On the Royalist side the best was the King himself, and the worst, that is the one who did most harm, Prince Rupert, the King's nephew, for he was the son of his sister Elizabeth. He was brave—no one could have been braver—but he was hot-headed, and had no power of seeing the whole of a battle. While he was pushing his own success he would let everything go wrong elsewhere. The man who really won the victory in the end for the Parliament was Oliver Cromwell. And now for a short description of the war.

From Nottingham the King moved westward to Shrewsbury, where his party was very strong. Having enlisted many soldiers he marched towards London. Lord Essex was waiting for him at Worcester, but the King avoided him, and he had to follow on as quickly as he could. At Edgehill, one of a range of hills that divide Warwickshire from Oxfordshire, the two armies met. What happened then was to happen again and again during the war. The King's cavalry was nearly as strong in numbers as his infantry, and far stronger in fighting power. Prince Rupert with his horsemen charged Lord Essex's cavalry and easily broke them. Carried away by excitement, he pursued the flying enemy for miles, and then came back to find that the King's infantry had been defeated, losing the Royal Standard and all the artillery. Some of Essex's cavalry under Oliver Cromwell, who now distinguished himself for the first time, had kept their order, and had made themselves useful in pursuing Charles's beaten infantry. On the whole, however, the Royalists had the best of the day, for the King was able to march towards London. Essex did the same, and though he was obliged to take a longer course, got there before him. At Turnham Green, some six miles to the west of London, the City train-bands were guarding some earthworks. The King did not venture to attack them, and drew back to Reading, and afterwards to Oxford.

The conflict at Edgehill was the only pitched battle of the year, but there was a good deal of fighting elsewhere. The Parliament showed itself strong in the east, the Royalists prevailed in the north and west.

In June, 1643, the Parliament lost one of its best and ablest leaders. John Hampden was mortally wounded in a skirmish with some Royalist horse that had come out of Oxford, where the King had fixed his head-quarters. He died six days afterwards. In July the Royalists won two victories in Wiltshire, and on the 26th of that month they got possession of Bristol, after London the largest town in the kingdom. A little later the King laid siege to Gloucester. At this time (August, 1543) he was probably stronger than he ever was again.

The Parliament felt that they must not lose Gloucester, which was a very important place, on account of the bridge over the Severn, and Lord Essex was ordered to march to its relief. When he approached the King raised the siege, but posted himself so as to intercept the Earl on his way back to London. A battle was fought at Newbury in Berkshire. In this the London train-bands distinguished themselves, standing firm against the fiercest charges of Rupert's cavalry. The King was not exactly defeated, but finding that his army was short of gunpowder, he left his position in the night, and made his way to Oxford. For the rest of the year there was no fighting of importance.

Both parties now began to look for help elsewhere. The Parliament applied to the Scotch. There were many skilful and experienced soldiers, men who had served in the wars on the continent, among the Scotch, and their help therefore was very valuable. The King, on the other hand, sent over to Ireland for the troops that had been fighting with the rebels there. It was even arranged that some of the rebels themselves should come. As it turned out, the Irish did more harm than good. Their coming made the English people very angry, and they were soon defeated. But when the Scotch joined the army of the Parliament things went very differently. The Royalists in the north could make no head against them, and the Earl of Newcastle, who was in command of them, sent to the King for help. Charles sent his nephew, Prince Rupert, with a large force of cavalry, and the two armies met on July 2nd, at Marston Moor, near York. There were about 27,000 men on the side of the Parliament, while the King's army numbered about 3000 less. As was always the custom in those days, both sides had their infantry in the middle of the line, their cavalry on the two wings. And now there happened what had never happened before. Prince Rupert's cavalry charged, but charged in vain; for a few minutes indeed their adversaries wavered, but it was only for a few minutes. They had some Scottish infantry to support them, and in a very short time they recovered their ground, and drove Rupert and his men before them. Here again Cromwell distinguished himself; it was he who was in command of the Parliament horse. From this time there could be no doubt as to what the end of the war would be. The King's strength was in his cavalry, and when they were beaten his cause was really lost. In another part of the field things went differently. Lord Goring charged Sir Thomas Fairfax and broke his line. As usual the Royalists pursued the enemy too far, without thinking of helping their friends. When they came back to the field, they found that the battle was lost. The King's army was indeed quite broken up. Prince Rupert managed to get a few thousand men together, but all the north of England was now in the power of the Parliament.

Still the war was not over. The King marched out of Oxford, following Lord Essex, who had gone in hopes of bringing over the south-western counties to the cause of the Parliament. Essex was driven into Cornwall, and in the end lost the greater part of his army. Another battle, in which neither side gained much advantage, was fought at Newbury. This was on October 17. During the rest of the year 1644 nothing of importance happened.

On June 14 in the next year came the last battle of the war. It was fought at Naseby in Northamptonshire. Again Prince Rupert, who seems to have always lost his head as soon as he drew his sword, charged the opposite line, broke it, and pursued the fugitives. He even began to plunder the baggage. When he came back the battle was lost. Cromwell with his "Ironsides," as the horsemen whom he had himself trained were called, defeated the Royalist cavalry, and then fell upon the infantry. When these began to waver, the King, who was close by, made ready to charge at the head of his own bodyguard. Those who were with him would not allow it. Lord Carnwath, a Scotch nobleman, who was riding by his side, laid his hand upon his rein, saying, "Sire, would you go to your death?" And Charles unwillingly turned back. Perhaps it would have been better for him and for England if he had gone on, even though it was to his death.

Nothing was now left to the King but a few towns in various parts of England, where his garrisons still held out. He himself was at Oxford. But it soon became manifest that Oxford was not a safe place for him to live in. The Generals of the Parliament prepared to besiege it, and the King saw that if he did not wish to be made a prisoner he must go.

On April 27 he rode out of the city with two companions, one of them a clergyman, who, like many clergymen in those days, had turned himself into a soldier, the other a gentleman whose servant the King pretended to be. He wore indeed a servant's dress, and had his hair cut short in the fashion followed by those who followed the side of the Parliament. The party began by riding towards London, and got as far as Harrow-on-the-Hill. The King, it is said, had thoughts of entering the city and throwing himself on the mercy of his adversaries. But having got so far he changed his mind, and rode northward till he came to Newark, where the Scottish army was encamped. There he gave himself up. He knew that there were matters in dispute between the Scotch and the Parliament, and he hoped to turn these to his own advantage. But he was disappointed. The Scotch began by demanding terms which the King could not possibly yield. They wanted him to change the order of the Church; there were to be no more bishops. The King was quite firm. On this the Scotch determined to surrender him to the Parliament. They bargained that if they did this they were to have their arrears of pay, 400,000, paid them. Many people said that they had sold their King. And indeed what they did was something like it. He was actually given up on January 30, 1647; two years afterwards he was dead. The Queen, whose youngest child, named Henrietta after her, was born in Exeter in June, 1644, fled from that city a fortnight after the birth of her baby, made her way to Falmouth, and thence crossed over to France. Her vessel was nearly taken by an English cruiser. The Queen commanded the captain to blow up his ship sooner than let it fall into the hands of the enemy. But just at the last moment—a shell had already struck the vessel—a French squadron came in sight, and the cruiser gave up the pursuit. Even then she was not safe. A gale sprang up, scattered the squadron, and drove the Queen's vessel on to the rocks. The passengers, however, escaped to land without injury.

The baby had been left behind. There is an interesting story of how, two years afterwards, she was brought to her mother in France by the lady into whose charge she had been given. The Parliament resolved to take her away from this lady—she was the wife of Lord Dalkeith,—and the faithful woman, sooner than suffer this, made up her mind to escape with the child. She dressed herself up in a shabby cloak and gown, made herself look deformed by fastening a hump of rags on one shoulder, and put a ragged suit of boy's clothes on the little Princess. She walked all the way from Oatlands, which is about twenty-five miles from London, to Dover, carrying the child on her back. The chief danger of being discovered came from the little Princess herself. She did not like the shabby dress which she wore, nor the name of Pierre by which she was called, and she told every one whom they met on the road that she was not Pierre, but a princess, and these dirty rags were not her own clothes. Fortunately no one understood her baby talk, and the party reached France safely.

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