The Arrest of Charles I
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
[By 1645] The government of the country was in the hands of the parliament at Westminster; the army was the army of the parliament, and its officers were the parliament's officers. The politicians imagined that their turn had come; but the army was by no means disposed to allow its victory to be thrown away or to be utilised for purposes of which it disapproved. And it was quite certain to disapprove of much which the parliament and the Scots desired.
In order to secure victory in the field parliament had suspended its Presbyterian rigour. The ranks of the army were filled with Sectaries; officers and men, including those who were themselves Presbyterians, had no more mind to surrender liberty of religion at the dictation of Presbyterians, than at the dictation of bishops. But they were led by men whom they trusted completely, and neither Fairfax nor Cromwell was willing to resort to force until force was proved to be the only available argument.
At the end of 1645, the year of Naseby, the narrow Presbyterian section in parliament lost something of its predominance. Several seats had become vacant, which were now filled up, and a large proportion of the new members were in sympathy with the broad ideas of toleration.
The Presbyterians, however, still held a substantial majority, and some two months after Charles had joined the Scots they formulated their proposals. Parliament was to have complete control of the militia for twenty years, the king was to sign the Covenant, and Presbyterianism was to be established, while the Episcopal system and all kinds of sectaries were to be suppressed.
Either the predecessor or the successor of Charles on the throne would have accepted those terms, trusting their own wits so to manipulate parties after the settlement that they should recover their own predominance. But Charles had neither the cunning of his father nor the keen political wit of his son.
He had no more respect for the spirit of his pledges than either of them, no compunction whatever about tricking his opponents. But he had a conscience of his own, and the one thing that he would not do was to act against his religious convictions.
Therefore he temporised, believing that all he required was to gain time — that the longer a settlement was delayed, the more certain it was that dissensions among the ranks of his opponents would enable him to make his own terms.
In fact, by accepting the terms at the moment he would have united the Scots and the English Presbyterians in his support, but his shifts to procure delay failed in their purpose. The Scots realised that he had no intention of signing the Covenant, the one matter of importance to them.
Even at the best they were not too well satisfied with the English Presbyterianism, which rejected the Scottish doctrine of spiritual independence and maintained the subordination of the Church to the State. Having made up their minds that the object they themselves had in view was unattainable, they resolved to withdraw themselves from English affairs altogether.
They signified to the English parliament that they held the king as a hostage, but would hand him over to the parliament when the money due to them for their expenses in the war were paid up; for it had been agreed as a part of the bargain, when the Scots intervened, that they did so at the charges of their allies, The sums claimed were promptly paid over; the Scots surrendered the king to the parliamentary commissioners and betook themselves across the Border.
The king imprisoned
The king was placed at Holmby House in Northamptonshire. The departure of the Scots pressed forward the crisis between Parliament and the Army. While the Army remained, it might interfere with, the strong hand, if Parliament endeavoured to override its will. There was no wish on the part of its chiefs to usurp the government, but on the fundamental point of general toleration, Parliament was not to be trusted, and on that point the Army was prepared to insist. Parliament, aware of its danger, began to discuss the disbandment of the Army while it continued to negotiate with the king.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.