Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Hopes of Peace Frustrated
By Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon (16091674)
From the Life
IT was about the beginning of March (which by that account was about the end of the year 1642, and about the beginning of the year 1643) that the commissioners of the parliament came to Oxford, to treat with his Majesty; and were received graciously by him; and by his order lodged conveniently, and well accommodated in all respects.
The parliament had bound up their commissioners to the strictest letter of their propositions; nor did their instructions at this time (which they presented to the king) admit the least latitude to them, to interpret a word or expression, that admitted a doubtful interpretation. Insomuch as the king told them, that he was sorry that they had no more trust reposed in them; and that the parliament might as well have sent their demands to him by the common carrier, as by commissioners so restrained. They had only twenty days allowed them to finish the whole treaty: whereof they might employ six days in adjusting a cessation, if they found it probable to effect it in that time; otherwise they were to decline the cessation, and enter upon the conditions of the peace; which, if not concluded before the end of the twenty days, they were to give it over, and to return to the parliament.
These propositions and restrictions much abated the hopes of a good issue of the treaty. Yet every body believed, and the commissioners themselves did not doubt, that if such a progress should be made in the treaty, that a peace was like to ensue, there would be no difficulty in the enlargement of the time; and therefore the articles for a cessation were the sooner declined, that they might proceed in the main business. For though what was proposed by them in order to it was agreeable enough to the nature of such an affair; yet the time allowed for it was so short, that it was impossible to make it practicable; nor could notice be timely given to all the quarters on either side to observe it.
Besides that, there were many particulars in it, which the officers on the kings side (who had no mind to a cessation) formalised much upon; and (I know not from what unhappy root, but) there was sprung up a wonderful aversion in the town against a cessation. Insomuch as many persons of quality of several counties, whereof the town was full, applied themselves in a body to the king, not to consent to a cessation till a peace might be concluded; alleging, that they had several agitations in their countries, for his majestys and their own conveniences, which would be interrupted by the cessation; and if a peace should not afterwards ensue, would be very mischievous. Which suggestion, if it had been well weighed, would not have been found to be of importance. But the truth is, the king himself had no mind to the cessation, for a reason which shall be mentioned anon, though it was never owned; and so they waived all further mention of the cessation, and betook themselves to the treaty; it being reasonable enough to believe, that if both sides were heartily disposed to it, a peace might as soon have been agreed upon as a cessation could be. All the transactions of that treaty having been long since published, and being fit only to be digested into the history of that time, are to be omitted here. Only what passed in secret, and was never communicated, nor can otherwise be known, since at this time no man else is living who was privy to that negociation but the chancellor of the exchequer, will have a proper place in this discourse.
The propositions brought by the commissioners in the treaty were so unreasonable, that they well knew that the king would never consent to them; but some persons amongst them, who were known to wish well to the king, endeavoured underhand to bring it to pass. And they did therefore, whilst they publicly pursued their instructions, and delivered and received papers upon their propositions, privately use all the means they could, especially in conferences with the Lord Falkland and the chancellor of the exchequer, that the king might be prevailed with in some degree to comply with their unreasonable demands.
In all matters which related to the church, they did not only despair of the kings concurrence, but did not in their own judgments wish it; and believed, that the strength of the party which desired the continuance of the war, was made up of those who were very indifferent in that point; and that, if they might return with satisfaction in other particulars, they should have power enough in the two houses, to oblige the more violent people to accept or submit to the conditions. They wished therefore that the king would make some condescensions in the point of the militia; which they looked upon as the only substantial security they could have, not to be called in question for what they had done amiss. And when they saw nothing could be digested of that kind, which would not reflect both upon the kings authority and his honour, they gave over insisting upon the general; and then Mr. Pierrepoint (who was of the best parts, and most intimate with the earl of Northumberland) rather desired than proposed, that the king would offer to grant his commission to the earl of Northumberland, to be lord high admiral of England. By which condescension he would be restored to his office, which he had lost for their sakes; and so their honour would be likewise repaired, without any signal prejudice to the king; since he should hold it only by his majestys commission, and not by any ordinance of parliament; and he said, if the king would be induced to gratify them in this particular, he could not be confident that they should be able to prevail with both houses to be satisfied therewith, so that a peace might suddenly be concluded; but, as he did not despair even of that, he did believe, that so many would be satisfied with it, that they would from thence take the occasion to separate themselves from them, as men who would rather destroy their country than restore it to peace.
And the earl of Northumberland himself took so much notice of this discourse to secretary Nicholas (with whom he had as much freedom as his reserved nature was capable of) as to protest to him, that he desired only to receive that honour and trust from the king, that he might be able to do him service; and thereby to recover the credit he had unhappily lost with him. In which he used very decent expressions towards his majesty; not without such reflections upon his own behaviour, as implied that he was not proud of it; and concluded, that if his majesty would do him that honour, as to make that offer to the houses, upon the proposition of the militia, he would do all he could that it might be effectual towards a peace; and if it had not success, he would pass his word and honour to the king, that as soon, or whensoever his majesty would please to require it, he would deliver up his commission again into his hands; he having no other ambition or desire, than by this means to redeliver up the royal navy to his majestys as absolute disposal, as it was when his majesty first put it into his hands; and which he doubted would hardly be done by any other expedient, at least not so soon.
When this proposition (which, from the interest and persons who proposed it, seemed to carry with it some probability of success, if it should be accepted) was communicated with those who were like with most secrecy to consult it; secretary Nicholas having already made some approach towards the king upon the subject, and found his majesty without inclination to hear more of it; it was agreed and resolved by them, that the chancellor of the exchequer should presume to make the proposition plainly to the king, and to persuade his majesty to hear it debated in his presence; at least, if that might not be, to enlarge upon it himself as much as the argument required: and he was not unwilling to embark himself in the affair.
When he found a fit opportunity for the representation, and his majesty at good leisure, in his mornings walk, when he was always most willing to be entertained; the chancellor related ingenuously to him the whole discourse, which had been made by Mr. Pierrepoint, and to whom; and what the earl himself had said to secretary Nicholas; and what conference they, to whom his majesty gave leave to consult together upon his affairs, had between themselves upon the argument, and what occurred to them upon it; in which he mentioned the earls demerit towards his majesty with severity enough, and what reason he had not to be willing to restore a man to his favour, who had forfeited it so unworthily. Yet he desired him to consider his own ill condition; and how unlike it was that it should be improved by the continuance of the war; and whether he could ever imagine a possibility of getting out of it upon more easy conditions than what was now proposed; the offer of which to the parliament could do him no signal prejudice, and could not but bring him very notable advantages; for if the peace did not ensue upon it, such a rupture infallibly would, as might in a little time facilitate the other. And then he said as much to lessen the malignity of the earl as he could, by remembering, how dutifully he had resigned his commission of admiral upon his majestys demand, and his refusal to accept the commission the parliament would have given him; and observed some vices in his nature, which would stand in the place of virtues, towards the support of his fidelity to his majesty, and his animosity against the parliament, if he were once reingratiated to his majestys trust.
The king heard him very quietly without the least interruption, which he used not to do upon subjects which were not grateful to him; for he knew well that he was not swayed by any affection to the man, to whom he was more a stranger than he was to most of that condition; and he, upon occasions, had often made sharp reflections upon his ingratitude to the king. His majesty seemed at the first to insist upon the improbability that any such concession by him would be attended with any success; that not only the earl had not interest in the houses to lead them into a resolution that was only for his particular benefit, but that the parliament itself was not able to make a peace, without such conditions as the army would require; and then he should suffer exceedingly in his honour, for having shewn an inclination to a person who had requited his former graces so unworthily: and this led him into more warmth than he used to be affected with. He said, indeed he had been very unfortunate in conferring his favours upon many very ungrateful persons; but no man was so inexcusable as the earl of Northumberland. He said he knew that the earl of Holland was generally looked upon as the man of the greatest ingratitude; but, he said, he could better excuse him than the other: that it was true, he owed all he had to his fathers and his bounties, and that himself had conferred great favours upon him; but that it was as true, he had frequently given him many mortifications, which, though he had deserved, he knew had troubled him very much; that he had oftener denied him, than any other man of his condition; and that he had but lately refused to gratify him in a suit he had made to him, of which he had been very confident; and so might have some excuse (how ill soever) for being out of humour, which led him from one ill to another: but that he had lived always without intermission with the earl of Northumberland as his friend, and courted him as his mistress; that he had never denied any thing he had ever asked, and therefore his carriage to him was never to be forgotten.
And this discourse he continued with more commotion, and in a more pathetical style than ever he used upon any other argument. And though at that time it was not fit to press the matter further, it was afterwards resumed by the same person more than once; but without any other effect, than that his majesty was contented that the earl should not despair of being restored to that office, when the peace should be made; or upon any eminent service performed by him, when the peace should be despaired of. The king was very willing and desirous that the treaty should be drawn out in length; to which purpose a proposition was made to the commissioners for an addition of ten days, which they sent to the parliament, without the least apprehension that it would be denied. But they were deceived; and for answer, received an order upon the last day but one of the time before limited, by which they were expressly required to leave Oxford the next day. From that time all intercourse and commerce between Oxford and London, which had been permitted before, was absolutely interdicted under the highest penalties by the parliament.
If this secret underhand proposition had succeeded, and received that encouragement from the king that was desired, and more application of the same remedies had been then made to other persons (for alone it could never have proved effectual), it is probable, that those violent and abominable counsels, which were but then in projection between very few men of any interest, and which were afterwards miserably put in practice, had been prevented. And it was exceedingly wondered at, by those who were then privy to this overture, and by all who afterwards came to hear of it, that the king should in that conjuncture decline so advantageous a proposition; since he did already discern many ill humours and factions, growing and nourished, both in his court and army, which would every day be uneasy to him; and did with all his soul desire an end of the war. And there was nothing more suitable and agreeable to his magnanimous nature, than to forgive those, who had in the highest degree offended him: which temper was notorious throughout his whole life. It will not be therefore amiss, in this discourse, to enlarge upon this fatal rejection, and the true cause and ground thereof.
The kings affection to the queen was of a very extraordinary alloy; a composition of conscience, and love, and generosity, and gratitude, and all those noble affections which raise the passion to the greatest height; insomuch as he saw with her eyes, and determined by her judgment; and did not only pay her this adoration, but desired that all men should know that he was swayed by her: which was not good for either of them. The queen was a lady of great beauty, excellent wit and humour, and made him a just return of noblest affections; so that they were the true idea of conjugal affection, in the age in which they lived. When she was admitted to the knowledge and participation of the most secret affairs (from which she had been carefully restrained by the duke of Buckingham whilst he lived), she took delight in the examining and discussing them, and from thence in making judgment of them; in which her passions were always strong.
She had felt so much pain in knowing nothing, and meddling with nothing, during the time of that great favourite, that now she took pleasure in nothing but knowing all things, and disposing all things; and thought it but just, that she should dispose of all favours and preferments as he had done; at least, that nothing of that kind might be done without her privity: not considering that the universal prejudice that great man had undergone, was not with reference to his person, but his power; and that the same power would be equally obnoxious to murmur and complaint, if it resided in any other person than the king himself. And she so far concurred with the kings inclination, that she did not more desire to be possessed of this unlimited power, than that all the world should take notice that she was the entire mistress of it; which in truth (what other unhappy circumstances soever concurred in the mischief) was the foundation upon which the first and the utmost prejudices to the king and his government were raised and prosecuted. And it was her majestys and the kingdoms misfortune, that she had not any person about her, who had either ability or affection, to inform and advise her of the temper of the kingdom, or humour of the people; or who thought either worth the caring for.
When the disturbances grew so rude as to interrupt this harmony, and the queens fears, and indisposition, which proceeded from those fears, disposed her to leave the kingdom, which the king, to comply with her, consented to (and if that fear had not been predominant in her, her jealousy and apprehension, that the king would at some time be prevailed with to yield to some unreasonable conditions, would have dissuaded her from that voyage); to make all things therefore as sure as might be, that her absence should not be attended with any such inconvenience, his majesty made a solemn promise to her at parting, that he would receive no person into any favour or trust, who had disserved him, without her privity and consent; and that, as she had undergone so many reproaches and calumnies at the entrance into the war, so he would never make any peace, but by her interposition and mediation, that the kingdom might receive that blessing only from her.
This promise (of which his majesty was too religious an observer) was the cause of his majestys rejection, or not entertaining this last overture; and this was the reason that he had that aversion to the cessation, which he thought would inevitably oblige him to consent to the peace, as it should be proposed; and therefore he had countenanced an address, that had been made to him against it, by the gentlemen of several counties attending the court: and in truth they were put upon that address by the kings own private direction. Upon which the chancellor of the exchequer told him, when the business was over, that he had raised a spirit he would not be able to conjure down; and that those petitioners had now appeared in a business that pleased him, but would be as ready to appear, at another time, to cross what he desired; which proved true. For he was afterwards more troubled with application and importunity of that kind, and the murmurs that arose from that liberty, when all men would be counsellors, and censure all that the council did, than with the power of the enemy.
About the time that the treaty began, the queen landed in the north; and she resolved, with a good quantity of ammunition and arms, to make what haste she could to the king; having at her first landing expressed, by a letter to his majesty, her apprehension of an ill peace by that treaty; and declared, that she would never live in England, if she might not have a guard for the security of her person: which letter came accidentally afterwards into the hands of the parliament; of which they made use to the queens disadvantage. And the expectation of her majestys arrival at Oxford, was the reason that the king so much desired the prolongation of the treaty. And if it had pleased God that she had come thither time enough, as she did shortly after, she would have probably condescended to many propositions for the gratifying particular persons, as appeared afterwards, if thereby a reasonable peace might have been obtained.