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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 18 — Parliament triumphs, and the king is betrayed

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Scotland Receives the Westminster Standards – England becomes Presbyterian – The Civil War – Army of the King – Army of the Parliament – Morale of each – Battle of Marston Moor -- Military Equipment -- The King Surrenders to the Scots – Given up to the English -- Cromwell – The Army takes Possession of the King -- Pride Purges Parliament – Charles Attainted and Condemned – The King's Execution -- Close of a Cycle – Thirty Years' Plots and Wars -- Overthrow of the Popish Projects

In 1647 the "Westminster Standards" were received by the Church of Scotland as a part of the uniformity of religion to which the three kingdoms had become bound in the Solemn League. These Acts were afterwards ratified by the Estates in Parliament, and sworn to by all ranks and classes in the kingdom. Scotland laid aside her simple creed, and accepted in its room an elaborate "Confession of Faith," composed by an Assembly of English divines. She put her rudimental catechisms on the shelf, and began to use those of the "Larger and Shorter" which had first seen the light in Henry VII's Chapel! Her "Book of Common Order" no longer regulated her public worship, which was now conducted according to a "Directory," also framed on English soil and by English minds. Her old Psalter, whose chants had been so often heard in days of sorrow and in hours of triumph, she exchanged for a new Psalm book, executed by Mr. Francis Rous, an Independent of the Long Parliament. The discarded documents had been in use for nearly a century, Scotland had received them from the most venerated Fathers of her Church, but she would suffer no national predilection to stand in the way of her honorable fulfillment of her great engagement with England. She wished to be thoroughly united in heart with the sister kingdom, that the two might stand up together, at this great crisis, for the cause of civil and religious liberty. England on her part made greater concessions than Scotland had dared to hope. Though the English Parliament does not appear ever to have ratified the scheme of doctrine and government drawn up, at its own request, by the Westminster Assembly, the Church and nation nevertheless adopted it, and for some time acted upon it. Episcopacy was abandoned, the Liturgy was laid aside, and worship conducted according to the "Directory for the Public Worship of God." The country was divided into Provinces; each Province was subdivided into Presbyteries; and so many delegates from each Presbytery were to form a National Assembly. England was Presbyterian – it is an almost forgotten chapter in its history – and its Presbyterianism was not borrowed from either Geneva or Scotland: it had its birth in the Chapel of Henry VII, and was set up at the wish of its own clergy. And although it flourished only for a brief space in the land where it arose, it has left its mark on Scotland, where it modified the Presbyterianism of John Knox, and stamped it with the impress of that of Westminster.

From that unique transaction, which, as we have seen, had assembled two nations before one altar, where they swore to combat together for religion, for law, and for liberty, we turn to the battle-field. Fierce and bloody were these fields, as ever happens in a civil war, where the hates and passions of rival factions contend together with a bitterness and fury unknown to foreign strife. The two armies first met at Edgehill, Warwickshire. The hard-contested field was claimed by both sides. To either victory could not be other than mournful, for the blood that moistened the dust of the battlefield was that of brother shed by the hand of brother. The campaign thus opened, the tide of battle flowed hither and thither through England, bringing in its train more than the usual miseries attendant on war. The citizens were dragged away from their quiet industries, and the peasants from their peaceful agricultural labors, to live in camps, to endure the exhausting toil of marches and sieges, to perish on the battle-field, and be flung at last into the trenches, instead of sleeping with ancestral dust in the churchyards of their native village or parish. It was a terrible chastisement that was now inflicted on England. The Royalists had at first the superiority in arms; their soldiers were well disciplined, and they were led by commanders who had learned the art of war on the battle-fields of the Continent. To these trained combatants the Parliament at the outset could oppose only raw and undisciplined levies; but as time wore on, these new recruits acquired skill and experience, and then the fortune of battle began to turn. As the armies came to be finally constituted, the one was brave from principle: the consciousness of a just and noble cause inspired it with ardor and courage, while the want of any such inspiriting and ennobling conviction on the other side was felt to be an element of weakness, and sometimes of cowardice. The longer the war lasted, this moral disparity made itself but the more manifest, and at last victory settled unchangeably with the one side, and defeat as unchangeably with the other. The gay and dissolute youths, who drank so deeply and swore so loudly, and who in the end were almost the only persons that assembled to the standard of the king, were on the day of battle trodden down like the mire of the streets by the terrible Ironsides of Cromwell, who resumed their enthusiasm for the fight and not for the revel, and who, bowing their heads before God, lifted them up before the enemy.

The day of Marston Moor, 1st of July, 1644, virtually decided the fate of the war. It was here the Scottish army, 9,000 strong, first took their place alongside the soldiers of the Parliament, in pursuance of their

compact with England, and their union was sealed by a great victory. This field, on which were assembled larger masses of armed men than perhaps had met in hostile array on English soil since the wars of the Roses, was a triangle, of which the base was the road running east and west from York to Wetherby, and the two sides were the rivers Nidd and Ouse, the junction of which formed the apex. [1] Here it was covered with gorse, there with crops of wheat and rye. Forests of spears – for the bayonet had not yet been invented – marked the positions taken up by the pikemen in their steel morions, their corsets and proof-cuirasses. On either flank of their squares were the musketeers, similarly armed, with their bandoliers thrown over their shoulders, holding a dozen charges. They were supported by the cavalry: the cuirassiers in casque, cuirass, gauntlet, and greave; the carbineers and dragoons in their buff coats, and armed with sword, pistols, and short musket. Then came the artillery, with their culverins and falconets. [2] The Royalist forces appeared late on the field; the Scots, to beguile the time, began to sing psalms. Their general, Leslie, now Earl of Leven, had mingled, as we have already said, in many of the bloody scenes of the Thirty Years' War, and so bravely acquitted himself that he was the favorite field-marshal of Gustavus Adolphus. Altogether there were close on 50,000 men on that memorable field, now waiting for the signal to join battle. The sun had sunk low – it was seven of the evening, but the day was a midsummer one – ere the signal was given, and the two armies closed. A bloody struggle of two hours ended in the total rout of the king's forces. Upwards of 4,000 corpses covered the field: the wounded were in proportion. Besides the slaughter of the battle, great numbers of the Royalists were cut down in the flight. The allies captured many thousand stand of arms, and some hundred colors. One eye-witness writes that they took colors enough, had they only been white, to make surplices for all the cathedrals in England. [3]

From this day the king's fortunes steadily declined. He was worsted on every battle-field; and in the spring of 1646, his affairs having come to extremity, Charles I threw himself into the arms of the Scots. In the Parliament of England the Independent party, with Cromwell at its head, had attained the supremacy over the Presbyterian, and the king's choice having to be made between the two, turned in favor of the Presbyterians, whose loyalty was far in excess of the deserts of the man on whom it was lavished. This was an acquisition the Scots had not expected, and which certainly they did not wish, seeing it placed them in a very embarrassing position. Though loyal – loyal to a weakness, if not to a fault – the Scots were yet mindful of the oath they had sworn with England, and refused to admit Charles into Scotland, and place him again upon its throne, till he had signed the terms for which Scotland and England were then in arms. Any other course would have been a violation of the confederacy which was sealed by oath, and would have involved them in a war with England. [4] But Charles refused his consent to the conditions required of him, and the Scots had now to think how the monarch should finally be disposed of. They came ultimately to the resolution of delivering him up to the English Parliament, on receiving assurance of his safety and honor. The disposal of the king's person, they held, did not belong to one, but to both, of the kingdoms. The assurance which the Scots asked was given, but in words that implied a tacit reproof of the suspicions which the Scots had cherished of the honorable intentions of the English Parliament; for, "as all the world doth know," said they, "this kingdom hath at all times shown as great affection for their kings as any other nation." [5]

But the Parliament soon ceased to be master of itself, and the terrible catastrophe was quickly reached. The king being now a prisoner, England came under a dual directorate, one half of which was a body of debating civilians, and the other a conquering army. It was very easy to see that this state of matters could not long continue, and as easy to divine how it would end. The army, its pride fanned by the victories that it was daily winning, aspired to govern the country which it believed its valor was saving. Lord Fairfax was the nominal head of the army, but its real ruler and animating spirit was Cromwell. A man of indomitable resolution and vast designs, with a style of oratory singularly tangled, labyrinthic, and hazy, but with clear and practical conceptions, and a fearless courage that led him right to the execution of his purposes, Cromwell put himself at the head of affairs, and soon there came an end to debates, protestations, and delays. Colonel Joyce was sent to Holmby House, where Charles was confined, to demand the surrender of the king, and he showed such good authority – an armed force, namely – that Charles was immediately given up. Colonel Pride was next sent to the House of Commons, and taking his stand at the door, with a regiment of soldiers, he admitted only such as could be relied on with reference to the measures in prospect. The numbers to which Parliament was reduced by "Colonel Pride's purge," as it was called, did not exceed fifty or sixty, and these were mostly Independents. This body, termed the Rump Parliament, voted that no further application should be made to the king; and soon thereafter drew up an ordinance for attainting Charles Stuart of high treason. They appointed commissioners to form a High Court

of Justice, and Charles, upon being brought before this tribunal, and declining its jurisdiction, was condemned as a traitor, and sentenced to be beheaded. The scaffold was erected in front of Whitehall, on the 30th of January, 1649. An immense crowd filled the spacious street before the palace, and all the avenues leading to it, on which shotted cannon were turned, that no tumult or rising might interrupt the tragedy about to be enacted. The citizens gazed awed and horror-struck; so suddenly had the spectacle risen, that it seemed a horrid dream through which they were passing. A black scaffold before the royal palace, about to be wetted with their sovereign's blood, was a tragedy unknown in the history of England; the nation could scarcely believe even yet that the terrible drama would go on to an end. They took it "for a pageantry," says Burnet, "to strike a terror." At the appointed hour the king stepped out upon the scaffold. The monarch bore himself at that awful moment with calmness and dignity. "He died greater than he had lived," says Burnet. [6] He bent to the block; the ax fell, and as the executioner held up the bleeding head in presence of the spectators, a deep and universal groan burst forth from the multitude, and its echoes came back in an indignant protest from all parts of England and Scotland.

From this scaffold in front of Whitehall, with the unwonted and horrid spectacle of a royal corpse upon it, let us turn to the wider drama with which the death of Charles I stands connected, and inquire what were the bearings of the king's fall on the higher interests of human progress. In his execution we behold the close of a cycle of thirty years' duration, spent in plotting and warring against the Reformation. That cycle opened with a scaffold, and it closed with a scaffold. It commenced with the execution of the martyrs of Prague in 1618, recorded in preceding chapters of this history, and it closed at Whitehall on the scaffold of Charles I in 1649.

Between these two points what a multitude of battles, sieges, and tragedies – the work of the Popish Powers in their attempt to overthrow that great movement that was brining with it a temporal and spiritual emancipation to the human race! Who can count the number of martyrs that had been called to die during the currency of that dark cycle! No history records even a tithe of their names. What oceans of blood had watered the Bohemian and Hungarian plains, what massacres and devastation had overthrown their cities and villages! These nations, Protestant when this cycle began, were forced back and trodden down again into Popish superstition and slavery when it had come to an end. This period is that of the Thirty Years' War, which continued to sweep with triumphant force over all the Protestant kingdoms of Germany till a great champion was summoned from Sweden to roll it back. After Gustavus Adolphus had gone to his grave, the Roman Catholic reaction seemed to gather fresh force, and again threatened to overflow, with its devastating arms and its debasing doctrines, all the German countries. But by this time the area of Protestantism had been enlarged, and England and Scotland had become more important theaters than even Germany. The Reformation had drawn its forces to a head in Britain, and the unceasing aims of the Popish Powers were directed with the view of destroying it there. While abroad Ferdinand of Austria was endeavoring to waste it with armies, the Jesuits were intriguing to corrupt it in Great Britain, and thereby recover to the obedience of Rome those two nations where Protestantism had entrenched itself with such power, and without which their triumphs in other parts of Christendom would have but little availed. Their efforts were being attended with an ominous success. James VI and Charles I seemed instruments fashioned on purpose for their hands. Filled with an unconquerable lust of arbitrary power, constitutionally gloomy, superstitious, and crafty, nowhere could better tools have been found. The Jesuits began by throwing the two countries into convulsions – their established mode of proceeding; they marked out for special attack the Presbyterianism of the northern kingdom; they succeeded in grafting prelacy upon it, which, although it did not exterminate it, greatly emasculated and crippled it; they took from the Church the freedom of her Assemblies, the only organ of public sentiment then in Scotland, and the one bulwark of its liberties. In England they managed to marry the king to a Popish princess; they flooded the kingdom with Romish emissaries; they overlaid the Protestant worship with Popish rites; and the laws of England they were replacing with the tribunals of despotism. Their design seemed on the very eve of being crowned with complete success, when suddenly the terrible apparition of a royal scaffold arose before the Palace of Whitehall. It was only a few months before this that the Thirty Years' War had been ended by the Peace of Westphalia, which gave greatly enlarged liberties to Protestantism, and now the western branch of the great plot was brought to nought. So sudden a collapse had overtaken the schemings and plottings of thirty years! The sky of Europe changed in almost a single day; and that great wave of Popish reaction which had rolled over all Germany, and dashed itself against the shores of Britain, threatening at one time to submerge all the Protestant States of Christendom, felt the check of an unseen Hand, and subsided and retired at the scaffold of Charles I.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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