Chapter I. The Eve of the War.
 

It was a pleasant afternoon in the month of July, 1642, when three young people sat together on a shady bank at the edge of a wood some three miles from Oxford. The country was undulating and picturesque, and a little more than a mile in front of them rose the lofty spire of St. Helen's, Abingdon. The party consisted of two lads, who were about fifteen years of age, and a girl of ten. The lads, although of about the same height and build, were singularly unlike. Herbert Rippinghall was dark and grave, his dress somber in hue, but good in material and well made. Harry Furness was a fair and merry-looking boy; good humor was the distinguishing characteristic of his face; his somewhat bright and fashionably cut clothes were carelessly put on, and it was clear that no thought of his own appearance or good looks entered his mind. He wore his hair in ringlets, and had on his head a broad hat of felt with a white feather, while his companion wore a plain cap, and his hair was cut closely to his head.

"It is a bad business, Harry," the latter said, "but, there is one satisfaction that, come what may, nothing can disturb our friendship. We have never had a quarrel since we first met at the old school down there, six years ago. We have been dear friends always, and my only regret has been that your laziness has prevented our being rivals, for neither would have grudged the other victory."

"No, indeed, Herbert. But there was never a chance of that. You have always been Mr. Gregory's prize boy, and are now head of the school; while I have always been in his bad books. But, as you say, Herbert, we have been dear friends, and, come what will, we'll continue so. We cannot agree on the state of the kingdom, and shall never do so. We have both taken our views from our parents; and indeed it seems to me that the question is far too difficult a one for boys like us to form any opinion of it. When we see some of the best and wisest in the land ranging themselves on either side, it is clear that even such a wise noddle as yours--to say nothing of a feather brain like mine--cannot form any opinion on a subject which perplexes our elders and betters."

"That is true, Harry; but still--"

"No, no, Herbert, we will have no argument. You have the best of it there, and I fall back upon authority. My father, the colonel, is for the king; yours for the Parliament. He says that there are faults on both sides, and indeed, for years he favored the Commons. The king's acts were unconstitutional and tyrannical, and my father approved of the bold stand which Sir George Elliot made against him. Now, however, all this has been changed, he tells me, and the Commons seek to rule without either king or peers. They have sought to impose conditions which would render them the lords absolute of England, and reduce the king to a mere puppet. They have, too, attacked the Church, would abolish bishops, and interfere in all matters spiritual. Therefore, my father, while acknowledging the faults which the king has committed, and grieving over the acts which have driven the Parliament to taking up a hostile attitude to him, yet holds it his duty to support him against the violent men who have now assumed power, and who are aiming at the subversion of the constitution and the loss of the country."

"I fear, also," Herbert said, "that the Commons have gone grievously beyond their rights, although, did my father hear me say so, I should fall under his gravest displeasure. But he holds that it is necessary that there should be an ecclesiastical sweep, that the prelates should have no more power in the land, that popery should be put down with an iron hand, and that, since kings cannot be trusted to govern well, all power should be placed in the hands of the people. My own thoughts do incline toward his; but, as you say, when one sees men like my Lord Falkland, who have hitherto stood among the foremost in the ranks of those who demand that the king shall govern according to law, now siding with him against them, one cannot but feel how grave are the difficulties, and how much is to be said on either side. How is one to choose? The king is overbearing, haughty, and untrue to his word. The Parliament is stiff-necked and bent upon acquiring power beyond what is fair and right. There are, indeed, grievous faults on both sides. But it seems to me that should the king now have his way and conquer the Commons, he and his descendants will henceforth govern as absolute monarchs, and the liberty of the people will be endangered; while on the other hand, should the Parliament gain the upper hand, they will place on a firm basis the liberties of Englishmen, and any excesses which they may commit will be controlled and modified by a future parliament, for the people of England will no more suffer tyranny on the part of the Commons than of the king; but while they cannot change the one, it is in their power to elect whom they will, and to send up men who will govern things moderately and wisely."

"At any rate," Harry said, "my father thinks that there is neither moderation nor wisdom among the zealots at Westminster; and as I hear that many nobles and country gentlemen throughout England are of the same opinion, methinks that though at present the Parliament have the best of it, and have seized Portsmouth, and the Tower, and all the depots of arms, yet that in the end the king will prevail against them."

"I trust," Herbert continued earnestly, "that there will be no fighting. England has known no civil wars since the days of the Roses, and when we see how France and Germany are torn by internal dissensions, we should be happy indeed that England has so long escaped such a scourge. It is indeed sad to think that friends should be arrayed against each other in a quarrel in which both sides are in the wrong."

"I hope," Harry said, "that if they needs must fight, it will soon be over, whichever way fortune may turn."

"I think not," Herbert answered. "It is a war of religion as much as a war for power. The king and the Commons may strive who shall govern the realm; but the people who will take up arms will do it more for the triumph of Protestantism than for that of Pym and Hampden."

"How tiresome you both are," Lucy Rippinghall interrupted, pouting. "You brought me out to gather flowers, and you do nothing but talk of kings and Parliament, as if I cared for them. I call it very rude. Herbert is often forgetful, and thinks of his books more than of me; but you, Master Harry, are always polite and gentle, and I marvel much that you should be so changed to-day."

"Forgive me," Harry said, smiling. "We have been very remiss, Miss Lucy; but we will have no more of high politics, and will, even if never again," he said sadly, "devote all our energies to getting such a basket of flowers for you as may fill your rooms with beaupots. Now, if your majesty is ready to begin, we are your most obedient servants."

And so, with a laugh, the little party rose to their feet, and started in quest of wild flowers.

The condition of affairs was at the outbreak of the civil war such as might well puzzle older heads than those of Harry Furness or Herbert Rippinghall, to choose between the two powers who were gathering arms.

The foundations of the difficulty had been laid in the reign of King James. That monarch, who in figure, manners, and mind was in the strongest contrast to all the English kings who had preceded him, was infinitely more mischievous than a more foolish monarch could have been. Coarse in manner--a buffoon in demeanor--so weak, that in many matters he suffered himself to be a puppet in the hands of the profligates who surrounded him, he had yet a certain amount of cleverness, and an obstinacy which nothing could overcome. He brought with him from Scotland an overweening opinion of the power and dignity of his position as a king. The words--absolute monarchy--had hitherto meant only a monarch free from foreign interference; to James they meant a monarchy free from interference on the part of Lords or Commons. He believed implicitly in the divine right of kings to do just as they chose, and in all things, secular and ecclesiastical, to impose their will upon their subjects.

At that time, upon the Continent, the struggle of Protestantism and Catholicism was being fought out everywhere. In France the Huguenots were gradually losing ground, and were soon to be extirpated. In Germany the Protestant princes had lost ground. Austria, at one time halting between two opinions, had now espoused vehemently the side of the pope, and save in Holland and Switzerland, Catholicism was triumphing all along the line. While the sympathies of the people of England were strongly in favor of their co-religionists upon the Continent, those of James inclined toward Catholicism, and in all matters ecclesiastical he was at variance with his subjects. What caused, if possible, an even deeper feeling of anger than his interference in church matters, was his claim to influence the decisions of the law courts. The pusillanimity of the great mass of the judges hindered them from opposing his outrageous claims, and the people saw with indignation and amazement the royal power becoming infinitely greater and more extended than anything to which Henry VIII. or even Elizabeth had laid claim. The negotiations of the king for a marriage between his son and the Infanta of Spain raised the fears of the people to the highest point. The remembrance of the Spanish armada was still fresh in their minds, and they looked upon an alliance with Spain as the most unholy of contracts, and as threatening alike the religion and liberties of Englishmen.

Thus when at King James' death King Charles ascended the throne, he inherited a legacy of trouble. Unhappily, his disposition was even more obstinate than that of his father. His training had been wholly bad, and he had inherited the pernicious ideas of his father in reference to the rights of kings. Even more unfortunately, he had inherited his father's counselors. The Duke of Buckingham, a haughty, avaricious, and ambitious noble, raised by King James from obscurity, urged him to follow the path of his father, and other evil counselors were not wanting. King Charles, indeed, had an advantage over his father, inasmuch as his person was stately and commanding, his manner grave and dignified, and his private life irreproachable. The conflicts which had continued throughout the reign of his father between king and Parliament speedily broke out afresh. The Commons refused to grant supplies, unless the king granted rights and privileges which he deemed alike derogatory and dangerous. The shifty foreign policy of England was continued, and soon the breach was as wide as it had been during the previous reign.

After several Parliaments had been called and dissolved, some gaining advantage from the necessities of the king, others meeting only to separate after discussions which imbittered the already existing relations, for ten years the king dispensed with a Parliament. The murder of the Duke of Buckingham by Felton brought no alleviation to the situation. In Ireland, Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, ruled with tyrannical power. He was a man of clear mind and of great talent, and his whole efforts were devoted to increasing the power of the king, and so, as he considered, the benefit of the country. In Ireland he had a submissive Parliament, and by the aid of this he raised moneys, and ruled in a manner which, tyrannical as it was, was yet for the benefit of that country. The king had absolute confidence in him, and his advice was ever on the side of resistance to popular demands. In England the chief power was given to Archbishop Land, a high church prelate, bent upon restoring many of the forms of Catholic worship, and bitterly opposed to the Puritan spirit which pervaded the great mass of the English people.

So far the errors had been entirely upon the side of the king. The demands of the Commons had been justified by precedent and constitutional rule. The doings of the king were in equal opposition to these. When at last the necessity of the situation compelled Charles to summon a Parliament, he was met by them in a spirit of absolute defiance. Before any vote of supply would he taken, the Commons insisted upon the impeachment of Strafford, and Charles weakly consented to this. The trial was illegally carried on, and the evidence weak and doubtful. But the king's favorite was marked out for destruction, and to the joy of the whole kingdom was condemned and executed. A similar fate befell Laud, and encouraged by these successes, the demands of the Commons became higher and higher.

The ultimatum which at last the Puritan party in Parliament delivered to the king, was that no man should remain in the royal council who was not agreeable to Parliament; that no deed of the king should have validity unless it passed the council, and was attested under their hands; that all the officers of the state and principal judges should be chosen with consent of Parliament, and enjoy their offices for life; that none of the royal family should marry without consent of Parliament or the council; that the penal laws should be executed against Catholics; that the votes of popish lords should not be received in the Peers, and that bishops should be excluded from the House; that the reformation of the liturgy and church government should be carried out according to the advice of Parliament; that the ordinances which they had made with regard to the militia should be submitted to; that the justice of Parliament should pass upon all delinquents, that is, upon all officials of the state and country who had assisted in carrying out the king's ordinances for the raising of taxes; that a general pardon should he granted, with such exceptions as should he advised by Parliament; that the fort and castles should be disposed of by consent of Parliament; and that no peers should be made but with the consent of both Houses. They demanded also that they should have the power of appointing and dismissing the royal ministers, of naming guardians for the royal children, and of virtually controlling military, civil, and religious affairs.

As it was clear that these demands went altogether beyond the rights of the Commons, and that if the king submitted to them the power of the country would be solely in their hands, while he himself would become a cipher, he had no course open to him but to refuse assent, and to appeal to the loyal nobility and gentry of the country.

It is true that many of these rights have since been obtained by the Houses of Parliament; but it must be remembered that they were altogether alien at the time to the position which the kings of England had hitherto held, and that the body into whose hands they would be intrusted would be composed solely of one party in the state, and that this party would be controlled by the fanatical leaders and the ministers of the sects opposed to the Established Church, which were at that time bitter, narrow, and violent to an extent of which we have now no conception.

The attitude thus assumed by Parliament drove from their ranks a great many of the most intelligent and enlightened of those who had formerly sided with them in their contest against the king. These gentlemen felt that intolerable as was the despotic power of a king, still more intolerable would it be to be governed by the despotic power of a group of fanatics. The liberty of Englishmen was now as much threatened by the Commons as it had been threatened by the king, and to loyal gentlemen the latter alternative was preferable. Thus there were on both sides earnest and conscientious men who grieved deeply at being forced to draw swords in such a quarrel, and who felt that their choice of sides was difficult in the extreme. Falkland was the typical soldier on the royal side, Hampden on that of the Commons.

It is probable that were England divided to-morrow under the same conditions, men would be equally troubled upon which side to range themselves. At this period of the struggle, with the exception of a few hot-headed followers of the king and a few zealots on the side of the Commons, there was a general hope that matters would shortly be arranged, and that one conflict would settle the struggle.

The first warlike demonstration was made before the town of York, before whose walls the king, arriving with an armed force, was refused admittance by Sir John Hotham, who held the place for the Parliament. This was the signal for the outbreak of the war, and each party henceforth strained every nerve to arm themselves and to place their forces in the field.

The above is but a brief sketch of the circumstances which led the Cavaliers and Puritans of England to arm themselves for civil war. Many details have been omitted, the object being not to teach the history of the time, but to show the general course of events which had led to so broad and strange a division between the people of England. Even now, after an interval of two hundred years, men still discuss the subject with something like passion, and are as strong in their sympathies toward one side or the other as in the days when their ancestors took up arms for king or Commons.

It is with the story of the war which followed the conversation of Harry Furness and Herbert Rippinghall that we have to do, not with that of the political occurrences which preceded it. As to these, at least, no doubts or differences of opinion can arise. The incidents of the war, its victories and defeats, its changing fortunes, and its final triumph are matters beyond the domain of politics, or of opinion; and indeed when once the war began politics ceased to have much further sway. The original questions were lost sight of, and men fought for king or Parliament just as soldiers nowadays fight for England or Prance, without in any concerning themselves with the original grounds of quarrel.