A few days after his ill-fated visit to the House of Parliament, Charles left Whitehall and London. He was never to come there again until he came as a prisoner. The storm was darkening down. The Queen fled to Holland, secretly taking with her the crown jewels, to pawn them in order to get money for the King.
When the Queen had gone, Charles travelled northward. Full of thoughts of war, he meant to take possession of Hull. First, because there were stored the arms which had been gathered for the Scots war. Second, because it was the most convenient port at which soldiers from the Continent might land—soldiers whom the Queen was to hire to fight against the English with the money got by pawning the English crown jewels.
Hull, or, as the full name is, Kingston-on-Hull, lies on the north side of the Humber. It was the great English King, Edward I., who gave it the name of Kingstown or Kingston. One day while he was out hunting he came upon the little village of Wyke, as it was called. His quick eye and mind saw at once how well the place was fitted for a seaport. So he made it a free town, gave it many privileges, and encouraged people to live there. Soon it grew to be a busy port. To-day, if you wander among the docks, you will see all sorts of merchandise piled upon the quays. You will see wool from Germany and Australia on its way to the cloth mills of Yorkshire, iron bars from Sweden for Sheffield, or you may see bales of finished woollen goods and cases of cutlery coming back from the mills and workshops, ready to be carried to all parts of the world. You will also see great lines of coal trains, for Hull is the outlet for the coal mines of Yorkshire, from which thousands of tons are exported every year. These coal fields are so large that it is thought that they will last seven hundred years longer, even if they are worked as fast as they are at present.
But in the days of King Charles, Hull had not grown to be the great town it now is. Instead of being the fifth seaport in the kingdom, instead of its miles of docks and shipbuilding yards, it had but one harbour at the mouth of the little river Hull upon which it lies. But it was a safe harbour. Coming from Holland, troops might sail up the Humber, land at Hull, and soon be in the very heart of the country.
Between the Thames and the Humber there is no other opening on the east coast—the Wash, you know, is of no use. Charles knew he could not command London. There the rebel Parliament was supreme. Hull he must have.
So, one day, the Governor of Hull was told that the King, with three hundred armed followers, was marching on the town. The Governor sent a message to the King praying him not to come. But the King would not listen; he still came on. Then the Governor drew up the bridge and shut the gates against him.
When the King came to the walls he found the town ready as if to receive an enemy. He called upon the Governor and commanded him to open the gates. Then the Governor came to the wall and fell upon his knees before the King, swearing that he was his faithful subject. Yet he would not open the gate, nor let the King enter.
"I dare not," he said, "being trusted by the Parliament."
For four hours the King stood without. Many messages passed all in vain, and at length, weary and angry, Charles bade the heralds proclaim the Governor to be a traitor. Then he turned and rode away.
So at last the storm broke, war began, and all the country took sides, some for the King, some for Parliament. To some it was a war of civil and political freedom. That is, to them it meant settling the question whether the King should have the power of forcing the people to pay taxes when he liked without the consent of Parliament. To others it was a war of religious freedom. That is, to them it meant settling the question whether the King should have the power of forcing his people to worship God in a way which they did not think to be right. And so it came about that the paying of taxes and the worshipping of God became strangely mixed up in men's minds.
It was a very dreadful war which now began. Families were divided, brother fighting against brother, father against son. Friends who had been dear to each other took different sides, and so became bitter enemies. Yet on the whole England might be said to be cut in two, the east fighting for Parliament, the north and west for the King. Where rich and busy towns had sprung up, along the river banks like the Humber and Thames, where people had made money by trading with foreign countries, there the anger against the King's unlawful taxes was hottest. These took sides with the Parliament. But most of the lords and gentlemen were for the King. So it was from the inland, rural districts, where the people were farmers and tillers of the ground, renting their lands from the nobles, that the followers of the King came; and from the Universities and the cathedral cities, where the bishops held sway. For the most part it was the merchants and traders, the artisans and mechanics, who were for the Parliament, and the gentlemen, their followers and servants, who were for the King.
So you see that the geography of England had something to do with the sides which people took in this great struggle.
The navy declared for Parliament, for the King had made the sailors angry by calling them "water rats." So most of the seaports fell into their hands. Thus from the beginning Parliament had some advantages. Having command of the sea-ports they were able to seize all the ships and men which came from abroad to help the King. They had also far more money than the King, as most of the merchants and traders were on their side. And it is in the hands of its merchants that the greatest wealth of a country lies.