Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

let the States-General of France, without any overt breach of the constitution. After all, the original
design of the crown had been to get money out of parliament, and the main object of parliament had once

been to make the king live of his own. A king content with parsimony might lawfully dispense with

parliament; and the eleven years had shown the precarious basis of parliamentary institutions, given a

thrifty king and an unambitious country. Events were demonstrating the truth of Hobbes's maxim that

sovereignty is indivisible; peace could not be kept between a sovereign legislature and a sovereign

executive; parliament must control the crown, or some day the eleven years would recur and become

perpetual. In France, unparliamentary government was prolonged by the victory of the crown for a

century and three-quarters. In England, Charles's was the last experiment, because parliament defeated

the claim of the crown to rule by means of irresponsible ministers.

In such a contest for the control of the executive there could be no final arbitrament save that of force;
but Charles was only able to fight at all because parliament destroyed its own unanimity by attacking the

church, and thus provided him with a party and an army. More than a temporary importance, however,

attaches to the fact that the abeyance of monarchical power at once gave rise to permanent English

parties; and it was natural that those parties should begin by fighting a civil war, for party is in the main

an organ for the expression of combative instincts, and the metaphors of party warfare are still of a

military character. Englishmen's combative instincts were formerly curbed by the crown; but since the

decline of monarchy they have either been vented against other nations, or expressed in party conflicts.

The instinct does not commonly require two forms of expression at once, and party strife subsides during

a national war. Its methods of expression, too, have been slowly and partially civilized; and even a

general election is more humane than a civil war. But the first attack of an epidemic is usually the most

virulent, and party strife has not a second time attained the dimensions of civil war.

One reason for this mitigation is that the questions at issue have been gradually narrowed down until,
although they bulk large to heated imaginations, they really cover a very small area of political life, and

the main lines continue the same whichever party triumphs. Another reason is that experience has proved

the necessity of the submission of the minority to the majority. This is one of the greatest achievements

of politics. In the thirteenth century Peter des Roches claimed exemption from the payment of a scutage

on the ground that he had voted against it, and his claim was held to be valid. Such a contention means

anarchy, and considerable progress had been made before the seventeenth century towards the

constitutional doctrine that the vote of the majority binds the whole community. But the process was

incomplete, and the causes of strife between Roundhead and Royalist were fundamental. A victory of the

Royalists would have been carried to extremes, as the victory of the Roundheads was; and the result

would almost certainly have been despotic government until a still more violent outbreak precipitated the

country into a series of revolutions.

Liberty, like religious toleration, has been won through the internecine warfare between various forms of
despotism; and the strength of the Royalists lay in the fact that parliament, in espousing Presbyterianism,

weighted its cause with an ecclesiastical system as narrow and tyrannical as Laud's. New presbyter was

but old priest writ large, and the balance between the two gave the decision into the hands of the

Independents, whose numerical inferiority was redeemed by Cromwell's military genius. When

Presbyterians and Independents had ground the Royalists to powder at Marston Moor and Naseby,

Charles sought to recover his authority through their quarrels. He fell between two stools. His double

dealings with both parties led to the second civil war, to his own execution, and to the abolition of

monarchy and of the House of Lords in 1649. Having crushed Catholic Ireland and Presbyterian

Scotland, to which Charles and his son had in turn appealed, Cromwell was faced with the problem of

 

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