King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

By Esmé Wingfield-Stratford | Go to book overview

Ireton and Cromwell wanted of the King was that he should aid and abet them in a conspiracy to anticipate Pride's Purge, and impose a despotism of the sword on the nation.

The reader of modern times will hardly fail to be struck with the strangely similar choice that was presented to Victor Emmanuel II of Italy when Mussolini ordered the march on Rome. Victor Emmanuel made the opposite decision to that of Charles, and had his reward of another score of years on an unrespected throne and eventual death in a foreign bed after having successfully survived the ruin of his House and realm. Charles, if he had acted as prudently, might perhaps have lived as long. Or perhaps the only difference from what actually happened would have been that he would have lost his honour as well as his head.


15
THE FALL OF LONDON

IT does not appear that Charles was much impressed by the strenuous urbanity with which the army leaders sought to beguile him into conformity to their proposals, or that he was inclined to build any great hopes on the proposals themselves, though he received them with a sort of tired courtesy and a willingness to explore any avenue to peace, however improbable. With that respect for the law that with him was fundamental, he could not fail to have been shocked at this brazen proposal of a committee of soldier politicians, not only to set themselves up by force as the supreme authority of the realm, but to tear up its immemorial constitution by the roots and to reshape it according to their own arbitrary will.

Even if the proposals had emanated from a legally competent authority, they must have been quite unacceptable to Charles without drastic modification. His first remark on being presented with them was to the effect that if the army leaders had really wanted to close with him, they would never have imposed such hard terms upon him. What his opponents, and even some of his most loyal supporters, could not understand was that though the King was always open--and some might have thought too open-- to discussion and compromise, once he had taken his stand on the bedrock of fundamental principle, no consideration of political

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