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Chapter 34

THE LONG PARLIAMENT. A.D. 1641--1649.


When Charles I. was obliged to call his Parliament, the House of Commons met, angered at the length of time that had passed since they had been called, and determined to use their opportunity. They speedily put an end both to the payment of ship money and to the Court of the Star Chamber; and they threw into prison the two among the king's friends whom they most disliked, namely, Archbishop Laud and the Earl of Strafford. The earl had been governor of Ireland, and had kept great order there, but severely; and he thought that the king was the only person who ought to have any power, and was always advising the king to put down all resistance by the strong hand. He was thought a hard man, and very much hated; and when he was tried the Houses of Parliament gave sentence against him that he should be beheaded. Still, this could not be done without the king's warrant; and Charles at first stood out against giving up his faithful friend. But there was a great tumult, and the queen and her mother grew frightened, and entreated the king to save himself by giving up Lord Strafford, until at last he consented, and signed the paper ordering the execution. It was a sad act of weakness and cowardice, and he mourned over it all the days of his life.

The Parliament only asked more and more, and at last the king thought he must put a check on them. So he resolved to go down to the House and cause the five members who spoke against his power to be taken prisoners in his own presence. But he told his wife what he intended, and Henrietta Maria was so foolish as to tell Lady Carlisle, one of her ladies, and she sent warning to the five gentlemen, so that they were not in the House when Charles arrived; and the Londoners rose up in a great mob, and showed themselves so angry with him, that he took the queen and his children away into the country. The queen took her daughter Mary to Holland to marry the Prince of Orange; and there she bought muskets and gunpowder for her husband's army--for things had come to pass now that a civil war began. A civil war is the worst of all wars, for it is one between the people of the same country. England had had two civil wars before. There were the Barons' wars, between Henry III. and Simon de Montfort, about the keeping of Magna Carta; and there were the wars of the Roses, to settle whether York or Lancaster should reign. This war between Charles I. and the Parliament was to decide whether the king or the House of Commons should be most powerful. Those who held with the king called themselves Cavaliers, but the friends of the Parliament called them Malignants; and they in turn nicknamed the Parliamentary party Roundheads, because they often chose not to wear their hair in the prevailing fashion, long and flowing on their shoulders, but cut short round their heads. Most of the Roundheads were Puritans, and hated the Prayer-book, and all the strict rules for religious worship that Archbishop Laud had brought in; and the Cavaliers, on the other hand, held by the bishops and the Prayer-book. Some of the Cavaliers were very good men indeed, and led holy and Christian lives, like their master the king, but there were others who were only bold, dashing men, careless and full of mirth and mischief; and the Puritans were apt to think all amusements and pleasures wrong, so that they made out the Cavaliers worse than they really were.

I do not think you would understand about all the battles, so I shall only tell you now that the king's army was chiefly led by his nephew, Prince Rupert, the son of his sister Elizabeth. Rupert was a fiery, brave young man, who was apt to think a battle was won before it really was, and would ride after the people he had beaten himself without waiting to see whether his help was wanted by the other captains; and so he did his uncle's cause as much harm as good.

The king's party had been the most used to war, and they prospered the most at first; but as the soldiers of the Parliament became more trained, they gained the advantage. One of the members of Parliament, a gentleman named Oliver Cromwell, soon showed himself to be a much better captain than any one else in England, and from the time he came to the chief command the Parliament always had the victory. The places of the three chief battles were Edgehill, Marston Moor, and Naseby. The first was doubtful, but the other two were great victories of the Roundheads. Just after Marston Moor, the Parliament put to death Archbishop Laud; and, at the same time, they forbade the use of the Prayer-book, and turned out all the parish priests from the churches, putting in their stead men chosen after their own fashion, and not ordained by bishops. They likewise destroyed all they disliked in the churches--the painted glass, the organs, and the carvings; and when the Puritan soldiers took possession of a town or village, they would stable their horses in the churches, use the font for a trough, and shoot at the windows as marks.

After the battle of Naseby, King Charles was in such distress that he thought he would go to the Scots, remembering that, though he had offended them by trying to make them use the Prayer-book, he had been born among them, and he thought they would prefer him to the English. But when he came, the Scottish army treated him like a prisoner, and showed him very few honors; and at last they gave him up to the English Parliament for a great sum of money.

So Charles was a prisoner to his own subjects. This Parliament is called the Long Parliament, because it sat longer than any other Parliament ever did: indeed it had passed a resolution that it could not be dissolved.


Charlotte M. Yonge