The Surrender of Charles I.
Valiant though the endeavours of Montrose were, he received disservice from Charles I who was negotiating with the Covenanters even while Montrose and his forces were fighting. Ever the opportunist, Charles still hoped to swing the country to his side by leaving Montrose to wage war; and there can be little doubt that when David Leslie marched north from England to defeat Montrose at Philliphaugh, the departure strengthened the royalist position in England. In this respect the defeat of Montrose and the prompt return of Leslie with most of his horse to Newark, was a blow to Charles.
Charles was. however, a fool to himself having quarrelled with the daring soldier Prince Rupert, and excluded him from his Court on 27 October 1645. At this time Charles also lost control of South Wales and his last English royalist army was nearing its last stand. In the circumstances he must have felt beleaguered and fearful of capture yet he vainly imagined that by sowing discord and promising liberty of conscience to the Independents (Cromwell and supporters) he could still win through.
Meanwhile the Scottish military in England were feeling uncomfortable as a mercenary army in the land of the `auld enemy`, and an unpaid one at that. They had been forced to forage and take what was needed and were reviled as stealing the bread and butter out of childrens` hands. The Scots felt sorely treated by such abuse and ungratefulness from a people they had come to liberate, and were further disappointed by the Independents being prepared to allow toleration to all sects . In practice the Solemn League and Covenant was already broken.
Charles continued wheeling and dealing with Scots representatives in London as there was hope of a settlement if he agreed to settle Presbytery by both Parliaments. The Independents were thought ready to rally round the king if he gave them Ireland as a retreat. Charles, intransigent and `all knowing` as ever, delayed response until the end of the year, hoping that by playing for time foreign allies would come to his aid. But at the year end he had two options – to accept the invitation of the Scots and go to their camp, or to go to London and take his chances.
The French diplomat Jean de Montereul, was at the heart of the advice to Charles, and struggled to convince him that his best policy was to trust the Scots who were devoted to the monarchy, and to distrust the sectaries who were plotting his destruction. The Frenchman had his own agenda for wanting this as it meant the possibility of a return of French influence and that of Rome in Scotland. Montereul had the greatest difficulty to convince Charles to accept Presbytery which he doggedly said
” his conscience would not allow him to consent to the ruin of the religion he had sworn to maintain and that he would rather lose his crown than his soul.”
Charles finally agreed to accept Presbyterian services in England ( but not the Presbyterian concept of Christian government). But the Anglo Scottish Covenanters had hardened their attitude and would have nothing less than Presbytery, a Protestant Ireland, the Covenant and Parliamentary control of the militia. The English Commons meanwhile were determined to have Presbytery subject to Parliamentary control.
This unravelling of the Scots hopes and aspirations served to feed their desire to get out of England as soon as possible. Charles meanwhile, through the intermediary of Montereul, decided it was expedient to go to the Scots camp. Disguised as a common lackey, and accompanied by two cavaliers, he left Oxford to arrive unexpectedly at Southwell, near Newark, on 5th May. The King was received with great discourtesy by Lord Lothian, who demanded he sign the Covenant, establish Presbytery; dismiss Montrose and order Newark to surrender.
Two days later Leslie struck camp and marched to Newcastle, which was seen by the English Parliamentarians as the time to pay off the Scots. Despite his hopeless situation Charles still prevaricated and insisted that he be entitled to freedom of conscience; to discuss matters with Alexander Henderson; to discuss with the Westminster Divines, and of all things even desired the Pope to exercise his plenary powers and ordain a settlement. The latter seemed to suggest a loss of contact with reality. But on 16 July 1646 the King at last directed Montrose to capitulate which he did at Rattray on on 30 July, his men being indemnified. Montrose and other officers only received a passport to go abroad. Disguised as a servant to Rev James Wood, Montrose left the country on 3 November 1646.
Charles still prevaricated but the Covenanters were tired of the incessant haggling and wanted to return home. Thus they sought their promised pay – amounting to some one and a half million pounds, but prepared to accept £400,000 in two installments. This was voted them by Parliament on 1st September when they also declared that by English law it would be a cause for war if the king was removed from the country. Again the King was asked to sign the Covenant and the Scots were ready to do battle for him. When Charles refused it was a foregone conclusion that he would be handed over on the understanding that the English would do him no harm. On 3 February 1647 the captive king left the Scottish camp for Holdenby House, Northamptonshire, escorted by military wearing laurel on their head pieces.
Restraint may have mollified Charles and he began to see the wisdom of some compromise with the nonconformist, and to devise a union of Royalists and Presbyterians against the Parliamentary extremists. This included a reopening of negotiations with the Scots Estates, represented by the Earl of Lauderdale. This served only to make the Model Army suspicious, and caused Argyll to ease back on the Covenanters` demands as he foresaw that it could mean serious problems for the English Presbyterians. It was this negotiating vacuum that left the door ajar for the die hard Scots royalists under the Duke of Hamilton, to negotiate the Engagement.
The failure of the Engagement and Charles` unalterable opposition to Presbytery was compounded by attempts at escape from Newport. Soon there were rumblings that the only solution was the dispatch of the king. Cromwell had hitherto avoided such a consideration but “events forced him to conclude that Divine Providence was calling for justice to be meted out to the creators of the national troubles, and to him, there was no doubt as to the prime mover and cause of them,” The year1649 opened badly for Charles when the House of Commons resolved to set up a High Court of Justice to try the king ; and on 4 January passed three resolutions that gave a semblance of legality to their actions:
1. The people are under God, the original of all just power;
2. the Commons wield that supreme power;
3. the laws enacted by the Commons in Parliament bind all citizens alike.
On 30 January at the Great Hall of Whitehall the masked executioner held aloft the kings severed head with the cry “Behold the head of a traitor”. A shudder ran through the crowned heads of Europe who feared that they might be the next victim of something called democracy.
The Duke of Hamilton was executed on 9 March 1649 having been tried as the Earl of Cambridge, by an English Court. The Earl of Huntley was executed in Edinburgh on 22 March. Montrose followed to the scaffold on 21 May 1650.
An excellent work on the king`s last days is The Trial of Charles I by C. V Wedgwood. Collins & Co (1964).