The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview
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VI
POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY, 1642-9

CHARLES left Whitehall the day before Pym's triumphal return to Westminster. For the time being he was again, as he had been in November 1640, without substantial support anywhere. And yet ten months later he was able to meet the parliamentary army on equal terms at Edgehill. The explanation is partly that henceforth the policy that Hyde persuaded the king to adopt won him a party in the nation. Under Hyde's guidance he took up an almost purely negative position in the war of declarations that preceded the actual fighting. Hyde chose as his text a remark Pym had made during Strafford's trial: the law is that which distinguishes right from wrong. The king, in this insistence upon the legality of his position and the illegality of the parliamentary demands, was much helped by the general unwillingness at Westminster to admit that the existing constitution would no longer suffice. As late as 2 August parliament, wholly without realization that the old order was passing away, resolved that a parliamentary majority would never agree to set up an arbitrary government and that it was 'most improbable that the nobility and chief gentry of this kingdom should conspire to take away the law, by which they enjoy their estates, are protected from any act of violence and power, and differenced from the meaner sort of people, with whom otherwise they would be but fellow servants'.1 Since the parliamentary leaders were imposing constitutional and ecclesiastical changes upon a country which by now they probably represented very imperfectly, they might fairly be accused of setting up an arbitrary government, especially as they had expelled all their opponents by imposing tests impossible for any supporter of the king to endure.

Granted, however, that Charles had the best of this paper warfare, it seems certain that he would never have been strong enough to take the field but for the increasing danger to the church. He himself assented to a bill removing bishops from

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1
Lords' Journals, v. 258.

-124-

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