Memorials of the Tower of London
De Ros, William Lennox
WENTWORTH, EARL OF STRAFFORD.
WENTWORTH, EARL OF STRAFFORD.
OF all the distinguished persons who had shown personal attachment to Charles I., and had most faithfully and devotedly served him, no man was more conspicuous than Wentworth Earl of Strafford. Against him, therefore, above all the servants of the King, was the vengeance of his enemies directed.
As Chief Governor of Ireland, Strafford showed a vigour and energy which had much contributed to the peace of that country; but in his determination to uphold the laws, and to check the violence and anarchy which too often prevailed in that country, it cannot be denied that he had occasionally adopted counsels of an arbitrary and barely legal character, of the notoriety of which his enemies were not slow to take advantage.
Haughty and cold in his manners, and accustomed to have his commands promptly obeyed, the Earl was at little pains to soften the rigour of his government by any arts of conciliation; and his known and open opinions as to the duties of subjects to their Princes, rendered him one of the most formidable opponents to those doctrines
|of resistance to illegal authority, which were daily gaining ground in the nation.|
Before quitting the government of Ireland, for his successes in which country the King had created him an Earl, Strafford left instructions for raising and equipping an army of 8000 men to assist Charles in a fresh attempt to reduce the Scotch to their obedience.
Great complaints were made in England by the Commons that Catholics had been enlisted in the Irish army, and Charles was compelled to give orders for the discharge of the few soldiers of that faith who had joined the new levies. Strafford was not a man to disguise his sentiments on this or any other proceedings of the Commons tending to curtail the King's authority and powers; consequently he was denounced as the "great apostate" from the cause of the people, and so strong was the hatred expressed against him personally, that many of his friends recommended him to avoid the approaching storm by withdrawing from the Court to his government in Ireland; but to his fearless mind such advice appeared unworthy of notice, and, as the King was desirous of his presence and of the aid of his wisdom and firmness, he did not hesitate to continue his attendance at the Court and Council.
The Commons well knew the value of such an adviser to Charles, harassed as he was and uncertain whom to mistrust and in whom to place his confidence. The leaders of the popular party met early in November, 1640, to arrange their plans, and, after a debate with
|closed doors, the majority of the Commons proceeded to the bar of the House of Lords, where Mr. Pym, their spokesman, impeached Wentworth Earl of Strafford of high treason.|
The Earl was informed of what had taken place in the House of Lords while in conference with the King, and hastened to the House; but on entering was met with cries from the Peers of the popular side to withdraw. The Lord Keeper at the same time desired him to kneel at the Bar, and informed him that he was to consider himself a prisoner in the custody of Black Rod till he should clear himself of the impeachment which had been now preferred against him by the Commons. An attempt which he made to address the House from the Bar was instantly silenced, and he was ordered to depart in charge of the Usher.
It was about a month afterwards that Archbishop Laud, who was as obnoxious to the Commons as his friend Strafford, was in like manner impeached by them at the Bar of the Lords, silenced in his attempt to speak, and committed to the custody of Black Rod. A few weeks after this (in January, 1641) Laud was committed to the Tower, from whence neither he nor his unfortunate friend was destined to issue more till they went to their doom on Tower Hill.
It was not till March (1641) that the arrangements were finished and the charges prepared against Strafford, whose trial was as usual to take place in Westminster Hall before the Peers. Places were set apart for the managers on the part of the House of Commons, for the
|deputation who had come from Ireland with the accusations against him of illegal acts while Governor, and for the Scots Commissioners, who charged him with intentions of transporting his Irish army to Scotland for its subjection and plunder. Galleries were also enclosed behind the throne for the King, Queen, and Court to be spectators of the solemn spectacle.|
Without entering into the detail of the charges against the Earl, it may suffice to state that those from Ireland related to illegal quartering of soldiers on the inhabitants, and various acts of military oppression or exaction. On behalf of the Scots, he was accused of levying an army in Ireland expressly for the destruction of constitutional liberty in Scotland; while with strange inconsistency the Commons themselves charged him with intending the Irish army for the subversion of the rights and liberties of England.
A number of minor acts were charged against the Earl, of which no one, of itself, could be called treasonable, yet when accumulated into one charge they were most unfairly represented, as amounting to the guilt of high treason. But the most atrocious injustice towards Strafford was the demand of the Commons that the members of the King's Council, at the deliberations of which he had assisted, should be absolved from the secresy invariably observed there, and subjected to separate examinations as to the illegal tendency of certain advice given by Strafford to the King in Council. A document was produced by Vane the younger, purporting to be a note delivered at the Council Board, to
|the effect that, as the King had exhausted all ordinary means of bringing his subjects to their obedience, His Majesty was now justified in employing his Irish forces for reducing this kingdom to obedience.|
It was plain that, if such advice were really given, Scotland, and not England, must have been meant by the words "this kingdom;" since it was solely on the state of affairs in Scotland that the deliberation in question had taken place, and the Lords who had been present declared, on interrogation, that there had never been mention that day but of Scotland, and further that they could not remember any such paper as that produced by Vane, being presented by Strafford on the occasion.
As the trial proceeded, the weakness and vague nature of the charges became daily more apparent, while the dignity, moderation, and ability with which Strafford conducted his defence was evidently producing a strong influence in his favour among the majority of the Peers. The managers of the Commons soon perceived the change, and, a debate having taken place with closed doors, it was announced that the impeachment was abandoned, and that the House had resolved to proceed against Strafford by a Bill of Attainder.
Pym read the paper above alluded to to the House, which purported to be the original notes taken by Vane the elder, Secretary to the Council, on the occasion in question, and a Bill of Attainder against the Earl for endeavours to subvert the liberties of the country was formally introduced on the ground of those notes.
Though the King's friends did their best to stem the
|torrent of public feeling, it proved too strong for their efforts, and within a fortnight the Bill of Attainder was passed by the Commons. Meanwhile the Lords continued the trial, and Strafford concluded his defence by a pathetic and noble appeal to the sense of justice of his judges, reminding them how his hard fate might befal any of them if they sanctioned such perversion of right as that of which he was now made a victim, and ending with the beautiful words uttered by David in his affliction, " In te Domine confido; non confundar in aeternum."|
Though the King sent his assurance to Strafford that he would not forsake him, so great appeared the danger of a general rising and tumult, that a proposal was made to Balfour, Lieutenant of the Tower, to admit 100 picked Royalist soldiers, with the secret view of removing Strafford to Newgate, and contriving a rescue by the way. But Balfour stood true to his charge, refusing to open his gates, and rejecting a large bribe which was afterwards offered him to connive at the Earl's escape.
Charles now informed the two Houses of Parliament in a short speech that, had they condemned Strafford on fair proof, he would have allowed the law to take its course; but as he himself knew the falsehood of the evidence which had been brought forward of Strafford's illegal advice to him in Council, he could not give the Royal assent to the Attainder. The Bill had now come up to the Lords, and passed in a very thin House by a majority of 22 to 16, several of the Earl's friends being intimidated from attendance by the violence and menaces of the mob outside the House.
That the King himself should have been affected by fears of insurrection in the City seems hard to believe; still harder is it to believe that he could ever have consented to sacrifice the unhappy Strafford. But where is there a limit to the infirmity of human nature ? On receiving from the Earl a letter, generously desiring that no further risk should be incurred for his sake by the King, and freely offering his life as the only means now left for reconcilement with his people, Charles, after consultation with Judges, Bishops, and all whom he deemed fit counsellors in his distress and difficulty, and who proved but too ready, with the bright exception of Bishop Juxon, to avoid the responsibility of speaking in favour of Strafford, yielded his assent to the Bill of Attainder, and the doom of his devoted friend and follower was sealed.
Little did the King suppose that the pious and single-hearted Bishop, who ventured, on this emergency, to give him such faithful and fearless counsel, would be the consoler of his own last hours, when overtaken by the fate to which he had now the weakness to abandon Strafford.
With tears and lamentation he signed the warrant; and if proof were wanting of the distraction of Charles's mind by the interior conflict he had endured, he now took the truly hopeless step of sending the young Prince of Wales to the House of Lords with a letter entreating that both Houses would consent to the sentence of death against Strafford being changed to one of imprisonment for life. It may well be imagined that this petition was
|treated with scorn, and even a reprieve for a few days refused. The next morning Wentworth Earl of Strafford was conducted to the scaffold on Tower Hill. He had made it his dying request to Archbishop Laud to give him his blessing as he should pass under the windows of his prison (probably a room in the Bloody Tower just above the gate). The venerable prelate raised his hands as his unfortunate friend approached, but grief choked his utterance: he gazed for a moment on the sad but undaunted countenance of the Earl, and sank back insensible on the floor of his prison. Strafford had faced death too often in the field to show fear at its near approach, even in the terrible form of a public execution. He made a brief speech from the scaffold, in which he said that it was some satisfaction to him to know that the King did not think he deserved to die, that he was not guilty of the crimes laid to his charge, and that he forgave, not merely in form, but from his very heart, all his enemies. He then laid his head on the block, and at one blow it was severed from his body. Vast crowds had assembled to witness the execution: they behaved with silence and decency, and those near the scaffold listened to his last words with respect; but in the evening emissaries were sent out into the streets, who excited the mob to make bonfires in the principal streets of the City, and, with huzzas and shouts, to break the windows of those whom they supposed to have been friendly to their victim.|