A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
Civil War and Common Weal

THE TWILIGHT OF PEACE

THE king stood at bay. Was it futile to fight? Was it sensible to capitulate? Was it wise to flee? Was it wiser still, in these hours of rupture, to seek a compromise? These questions may occur to the modern reader. They would have been without meaning to Charles I. What divine right ruler could degrade himself and his cause by surrendering the prerogatives he believed bestowed upon him by God? Charles had been unable to persuade and so he had been driven to coerce. When he had turned to demand he found that many of his subjects had refused to obey. They had grappled with the Lord's anointed. They had tried, in the eyes of Charles I, to besmirch and deface the sacred prerogative. They had hacked their way to the foot of the throne. Such, indeed, was the view of the king. On the other hand, the case against the Crown was very strong. Remedies and redress must be found, surely, for the bitter dissatisfactions in church and state.

We must be careful not to suggest more than the facts support. Even as broad rifts were widening in society there still remained great areas of common sympathies and understanding among Englishmen. In The Crisis of the Constitution Miss Margaret Judson has carefully documented this aspect of political thought in the first half of the seventeenth century. The long and intensive studies of Professor Willson H. Coates have led him to this conclusion: "At least up to the latter part of 1641 parliamentarians not only believed in monarchy but recognized areas of government where the king was not limited by human institutions; royalists at the same time admitted inviolable rights of the subject and found the rule of law compatible with their exaltation of the king. The ideal of both parliamentarians and royal

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