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Significant Scots
Charles I


CHARLES I., king of Great Britain, was the second son of James VI. of Scotland, and First of Great Britain, by Anne, daughter of Frederick II., King of Denmark and Norway. Charles was born at Dunfermline palace, which was the dotarial or jointure house of his mother the queen, on the 19th of November, 1600, being the very day on which the earl of Gowry and his brother were publicly dismembered at the cross of Edinburgh, for their concern in the celebrated conspiracy. King James remarked with surprise that the principal incidents of his own personal and domestic history had taken place on this particular day of the month: he had been born, he said, on the 19th of June; he first saw his wife on the 19th of May; and his two former children, as well as this one, had been born on the 19th day of different months. Charles was only two years and a half old when his father was called up to England to fill the throne of Elizabeth. The young prince was left behind in charge of the earl of Dunfermline, but joined his father in July, 1603, along with his mother and the rest of the royal family. Being a very weakly child, and not likely to live long, the honour of keeping him, which in other circumstances would have been eagerly sought, was bandied about by the courtiers, and with some difficulty was at length accepted by Sir Robert Carey and his wife. This was the gentleman who hurried, with such mean alacrity, to inform King James of the demise of his cousin Elizabeth, from whom, in life, he had received as many favours as he could now hope for from her successor. Carey tells us in his own Memoirs, that the legs of the child were unable to support him, and that the king had some thoughts of mending the matter by a pair of iron boots, from which however, he was dissuaded. At his baptism, December 23, 1600, Charles had received the titles of duke of Albany, marquis of Ormond, earl of Ross, and lord Ardmanach. He was now, January 1605, honoured with the second title of the English royal family—duke of York.

King James, whatever may have been the frivolity of his character in some respects, is undeniably entitled to the credit of having carefully educated his children. Prince Henry, the elder brother, and also Charles, were proficients in English, Latin, and French, at an amazingly early age. Although, from their living in separate houses, he did not see them often, he was perpetually writing them instructive and encouraging letters, to which they replied, by his desire, in language exclusively supplied by themselves. The king was also in the habit of sending many little presents to his children. "Sweete, sweete father," says Charles, in an almost infantile epistle, yet preserved in the Advocates’ Library, "I learn to decline substantives and adjectives. Give me your blessing. I thank you for my best man. Your loving son, York." The character of Charles was mild, patient, and serious, as a child is apt to be who is depressed by ill health, or an inability to take a share in youthful sports. His brother Henry, who was nearly seven years his senior, and of more robust character, one day seized the cap of archbishop Abbot, which he put upon Charles’ head, telling him, at the same time, that when he was king, he would make him archbishop of Canterbury. Henry dying in November 1612, left a brighter prospect open before his younger brother, who, in 1616, was formally created prince of Wales. At this splendid ceremony the queen could not venture to appear, lest the sight should renew her grief for the amiable Henry, whom she had seen go through the same solemnity only a short time before his death. As he grew up towards manhood, Charles gradually acquired strength, so that at twenty he was well skilled in manly exercises, and accounted the best rider of the great horse in his father’s dominions. His person was slender, and his face—but the majestic melancholy of that face is too deeply impressed on every mind to require description. It was justly accounted very strange that the marquis of Buckingham, the frivolous favourite of king James, should have become equally agreeable to the grave temperament of the prince of Wales. Charles was perpetually in the company of that gay courtier, and the king used to consider them both as his children. He always addressed the prince by the epithet "Baby Charles," and in writing to Buckingham, he as invariably subscribed himself as "his dear dad." James had high abstract notions as to the rank of those who should become the wives of princes. He considered the sacred character of a king degraded by a union with one under his own rank. While his parliament, therefore, wished him to match his son to some small German princess, who had the advantage of being a good protestant, he contemplated wedding him to the grand-daughter of Charles V., the sister of the reigning king of Spain. Both James and Charles had a sincere sense of the errors of Rome; but the fatality of matching with a Catholic princess was not then an established maxim in English policy, which it is to be hoped it ever will be in this realm. It was also expected that the Spanish monarch would be instrumental in procuring a restoration of the Palatinate of the Rhine for the son-in-law of the king of Great Britain, who had lost it in consequence of his placing himself at the head of the Bohemians, in a rebellion against the emperor of Germany. The earl of Bristol, British ambassador at Madrid, was carrying on negotiations for this match, when Charles, with the romantic feeling of youth, resolved to travel into Spain, and woo the young princess in person. In February 1693, he set out with the marquis of Buckingham, and only two other attendants, himself bearing the incognito title of Mr John Smith, a union of the two most familiar names in England, while the marquis assumed that of Mr Thomas Smith. At Paris, they obtained admission to the rehearsal or practising of a masque, where the prince beheld the princess Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of the illustrious Henry IV., and sister of the reigning king, Louis XIII., who was in reality destined to be his wife. It appears, however, that he paid no attention to this lady on the present occasion. His heart being full of the object of his journey, he directed his whole attention to the queen of France, because she was sister to the Spanish princess, whom he was going to see. In a letter to his father, he speaks in terms of high expectation of the latter individual, seeing that her sister was the handsomest of twenty women (Henrietta was of course included) whom he saw at this masque. That Charles subsequently placed his whole affections on a woman whom he now saw with indifference is only another added to the many proofs, that love is among the most transferable of all things. On his arrival at Madrid, he was received in the most courteous manner by the Spanish court, and his gallantry, as might be expected, made a strong impression upon the people. The celebrated Lopez de Vega wrote a canzonet on the occasion, of which the first verse has chanced to meet our eye:

Carlos Estuardo soy;
Que siendo amor mi quia
Al cielo de Espana voy
Por vor nir estrello Maria.

{Charles Stuart am I:
Love has guided me far
To this fair Spanish sky,
To see Mary my star.}

But, while he was entertained in the most affectionate manner by the people, and also by their prince, the formal policy of the court dictated that he should hardly ever see his intended bride. The marquis of Buckingham seriously proposed that he should send home for some perspective glasses, in order to reduce the distance at which she was kept from him. So far as his opportunities permitted him to judge of her personal merits, he admired her very much; but we suspect that if he had fallen in love, as he had expected, he never would have broken off the match. After spending all the summer at the Spanish court, waiting for a dispensation from the Pope, to enable the princess to marry a protestant, he was suddenly inspired with some disgust, and abruptly announced his intention of returning home. The marquis, now duke, of Buckingham, whose mercurial manners had given great offence to the Spaniards, and who had conceived great offence in return, is supposed to have caused this sudden change of purpose. The earl of Bristol was left to marry the princess in the way of proxy, but with secret instructions not to do so till he should receive further orders.

It would be rash to pronounce judgment upon this affair with so little evidence as history has left us; but it seems probable that the match was broken off and the subsequent war incurred, purely through some freakish caprice of the favourite—for upon such things then depended the welfare of the nations. This contemptible court-butterfly ruled with absolute power over both the king and his son, but now chiefly sided with the latter against his father, being sensible that the old king was no longer able to assert his independency against the growing influence of his son. As the English people would have then fought in any quarrel, however unjust, against the Spaniards, simply because they were catholics, the war was very popular; and Buckingham, who chiefly urged it, became as much the favourite of the nation, as he was of the king and prince. A negotiation was subsequently opened with France, for a match with the princess Henrietta Maria. On the 27th of March, 1625, Charles succeeded his fatber as king; and, on the 22d of June, the princess, to whom he had previously been espoused by proxy, arrived in London.

It would be foreign to the character of this work to enter into a full detail of the public transactions in which Charles was concerned in his regal character. We shall, therefore, be content with an outline of these transactions. The arrogant pretensions of his father, founded on "the right divine of kings to govern wrong," had roused a degree of jealousy and resistance among the people; whilst the weakness and vacillation of his character, and the pusillanimity of his administration, had gone far to bring the kingly office into contempt. Charles had imbibed the arbitrary principles of his father, and, without appreciating the progress of public opinion, resolved, on his accession, to carry out the extravagant theories of James. During the whole reign of the latter, the Commons had kept up a constant warfare with the crown, making every supply which they voted the condition of a new concession to the popular will. The easy nature of James had got over these collisions much better than was to be expected from the grave and stern temperament of his son. After a few such disputes with his parliament (for the House of Lords always joined with the Commons), Charles concluded his wars, to save all expense, and, resolving to call no more parliaments, endeavoured to support the crown in the best way he could by the use of his prerogative. For ten years subsequent to 1628, when the duke of Buckingham was assassinated, he contrived to carry on the state with hardly any assistance from his officers, using chiefly the ill-omened advice of Laud, bishop of London, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, and also relying considerably upon the queen, to whom he was devotedly attached. The result was to sow distrust and discontent throughout the kingdom, to array the subject against the sovereign, and leave no alternative betwixt the enthralment of the people and the destruction of the king. The earnest struggles for religious freedom, in England and Scotland, added a fresh impulse to the growing spirit of civil liberty. Charles rashly encountered the powerful body of nonconformists in England and the sturdy presbyterians of Scotland, and at last sank under the recoil.

The dissenters from the Church of England were at this time a rapidly increasing body; and the church, to maintain her power, thought proper to visit them with some severe sentences. The spirit with which the regular clergy were animated against the nonconformists, may be argued from the fact, that Laud publicly blessed God, when Dr Alexander Leighton was sentenced to lose his ears, and be whipped through the streets of London. The king and the archbishop had always looked with a jealous eye upon Scotland, where the episcopal form of government was as yet only struggling for supremacy over a people who were, almost without exception, presbyterian. In 1633, Charles visited Scotland for the purpose of receiving the crown of his ancient kingdom; and measures were thenceforth taken, under the counsel of his evil genius Laud, who accompanied him, for enforcing episcopacy upon the church of Scotland. It was not, however, till 1637, that this bold project was carried into effect.

The Scots united themselves in a solemn covenant against this innovation, and at the close of the year 1638, felt themselves so confident in their own strength as to abolish episcopacy in a General Assembly of the church held in Glasgow, and which conducted its proceedings in spite of the prohibition of the king’s commissioner. In 1639, his finances being exhausted, Charles was compelled, after the lapse of eleven years, to assemble a parliament, which met in April, 1640. Like their predecessors, the Commons refused to grant supplies till they had stated their grievances. The king hastily dissolved parliament, and prosecuted several of the members who had led on the opposition. The king, in spring, 1639, conducted an army of 20,000 to put down the Scots; but they met him with an equal force, and Charles was reduced to a pacification, which left the grounds of quarrel undecided. Next year, Charles raised another army; but the Scots anticipated him by invading England, and at Newburn on the Tyne overthrew a large detachment of his forces, and immediately after gained possession of Newcastle. All expedients for supporting his army now failed, and he seemed about to be deserted in a great measure by the affections of his subjects. A large portion of the English entered heartily into the views of the Scots. It was agreed by all parties that the northern army should be kept up at a certain monthly pay, till such time as a parliament should settle the grievances of the nation. Charles called together the celebrated assembly which afterwards acquired the name of the Long Parliament. This was only giving collective force and energy to the party which longed for his overthrow. He was obliged to resign his favourite minister, Strafford, as a victim to this assembly. Some of his other servants only escaped by a timely flight. He was himself obliged to abandon many points of his prerogative which he had hitherto exercised. Fearing that nothing but the sword could decide the quarrel, he paid a visit in autumn, 1641, to Scotland, and endeavoured, by ostensible concessions to the religious prepossessions of that nation, to secure its friendship, or at least its neutrality. In August, 1642, he erected his standard at Nottingham, and soon found himself at the head of a considerable army, composed chiefly of the country gentry and their retainers. The parliament, on the other hand, was supported by the city of London, and by the mercantile interest in general. At the first, Charles gained several advantages over the parliament; but the balance was restored by the Scots, who took side against the king, and, in February 1644, entered England with a large army. The cause of royalty from this time declined, and in May 1646, the king was reduced to the necessity of taking refuge in the camp of the Scottish army at Newark. He was treated with respect, but regarded as a prisoner, and after some abortive negotiations, was, January 30, 1647, surrendered to the commissioners of the English parliament, on the payment of the arrears due to the Scottish army. If Charles would have now consented to abolish episcopacy, and reign as a limited monarch, he would have been supported by the presbyterian party, and might have escaped a violent death. But his predilections induced him to resist every encroachment upon that form of ecclesiastical polity; and he therefore lost, in a great measure, the support of the presbyterians, who, though the body that had begun the war, were now sincerely anxious for a pacification, being in some alarm respecting a more violent class, who had latterly sprung up, and who, from their denial of all forms of church government, were styled Independents. This latter party, which reckoned almost the whole army in its numbers, eventually acquired an ascendancy over the more moderate presbyterians; and, the latter being forcibly excluded from parliament, the few individuals who remained formed themselves into a court of justice, before which the king was arraigned. Having been found guilty of appearing in arms against the parliament, Charles was by this court condemned to suffer death as a traitor, which sentence was put in execution, January 30, 1649, in front of his own palace of Whitehall, in the forty-ninth year of his age, and twenty-fifth of his reign.

The Scottish subjects of Charles had made strenuous exertions to avert this fearful issue; and by none was his death mourned with a deeper sorrow than by the very Covenanters who had risen in arms to repel his invasion upon their liberty of conscience. It was indeed impossible not to deplore the fate of that unfortunate and misguided monarch; but it cannot be doubted that it was mainly brought about by his own insincerity and obstinacy. By his queen, who survived him for some years, he left six children, of whom the two eldest, Charles and James, were successively kings of Great Britain; a son and a daughter died in early youth; and his two remaining daughters, Mary and Henrietta, were respectively married to the prince of Orange, and to the duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XIV. In literature Charles is entitled to a high rank. There was published after his death, a work entitled EIKON BASILIKE, which contained a series of reflections proceeding from himself, respecting various situations in which he was placed towards the close of his life. This, in a short space of time, went through upwards of forty editions, and it every where excited a keen interest in the fate of the king and high admiration of his mental gifts. Although for a long time suspected to have been written by another hand, it appears incontestibly proved by Dr Christopher Wordsworth, in his work on this subject, (published in 1824) to have been his own express composition.


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