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Eikon Basilike: Ch. 2

Upon the Earle of Straffords death.

I LOOKED upon my Lord of Strafford, as a Gentleman, whose great abilities might make a Prince rather afraid, then ashamed to employ him, in the greatest affaires of State.

For those were prone to create in him great confidence of undertakings, and this was like enough to betray him to great errours, and many enemies: whereof he could not but contract good store, while moving in so high a spheare, and with so vigorous a lustre, he must needs (as the Sun) raise many envious exhalations, which condensed by a popular odium, were capable to cast a cloud upon the brightest merit, and integrity.

Though I cannot in My Judgment approve all he did, driven (it may be) by the necessities of times, and the Temper of that People, more then led by his owne disposition to any height and rigour of actions: yet I could never be convinced of any such criminousnesse in him, as willingly to expose his life to the stroke of Justice, and malice of his enemies.

I never met with a more unhappy conjuncture of affaires, then in the businesse of that unfortunate Earle: when between My owne unsatisfiednesse in Conscience, and a necessity (as some told me) of satisfying the importunities of some people; I was perswaded by those, that I think wished me well, to chuse rather what was safe, then what seemed just; preferring the outward peace of My Kingdoms with men, before that inward exactnesse of Conscience before God.

And indeed I am so farre from excusing or denying that complyance on My part (for plenary consent it was not) to his destruction, whom in my Judgment I thought not, by any cleare Law, guilty of death: That I never bare any touch of Conscience with greater regret: which, as a signe of My repentance, I have often with sorrow confessed both to God and men, as an act of so sinfull frailty, that it discovered more a feare of Man, than of God, whose name and place on Earth no man is worthy to beare, who will avoid inconveniences of State, by acts of so high injustice, as no publique convenience can expiate or compensate.

I see it a bad exchange to wound a mans owne Conscience, thereby to salve State sores; to calme the stormes of popular discontents, by stirring up a tempest in a mans owne bosome.

Nor hath Gods Justice failed in the event and sad consequences, to shew the world the fallacy of that Maxime, Better one man perish (though unjustly) then the people be displeased, or destroyed.

For, in all likelyhood, I could never have suffred, with My People, greater calamities, (yet with greater comfort) had I vindicated Stafford's innocency, at least by denying to Signe that destructive BILL, according to that Justice, which My Conscience suggested to Me, then I have done since I gratified some mens un-thankfull importunities with so cruell a favour. And I have observed, that those, who counselled Me to signe that Bill, have been so farre from receiving the rewards of such ingratiatings with the People, that no men have been harassed and crushed more than they: He onely hath been least vexed by them, who counselled Me, not to consent against the vote of My owne Conscience; I hope God hath forgiven Me and them, the sinfull rashnesse of that businesse.

To which being in My soule so fully conscious, those Judgements God hath pleased to send upon Me, are so much the more welcome, as a meanes (I hope) which his mercy hath sanctified so to Me, as to make Me repent of that unjust Act, (for so it was to Me) and for the future to teach Me, That the best rule of policy is to preferre the doing of Justice, before all enjoyments, and the peace of My Conscience before the preservation of My Kingdomes.

Nor hath anything more fortified My resolutions against all those violent importunities, which since have sought to gaine alike consent from Me, to Acts, wherein my Conscience is unsatisfied, then the sharp touches I have had for what passed Me, in My Lord of Strafford’s Businesse.

Not that I resolved to have employed him in My affaires, against the advice of My Parliament, but I would not have had any hand in his Death, of whose Guiltlesnesse I was better assured, than any man living could be.

Nor were the Crimes objected against him so cleare, as after a long and faire hearing to give convincing satisfaction to the Major part of both Houses; especially that of the Lords, of whom scarce a third part were present, when the Bill passed that House: and for the House of Commons, many Gentlemen, disposed enough to diminish My Lord of Straffords greatnesse and power, yet unsatisfied of his guilt in Law, durst not Condemne him to die: who for their Integrity in their Votes, were by posting their Names, exposed to the popular calumny, hatred, and fury; which grew then so exorbitant in their clamours for Justice, (that is, to have both My selfe and the two Houses Vote, and doe as they would have us) that many ('tis thought) were rather terrified to concurre with the condemning party, then satisfied that of right they ought so to doe.

And that after Act vacating the Authority of the precedent, for future imitation, sufficiently tells the world, that some remorse touched even his most implacable enemies, as knowing he had very hard measure, and such as they would be very loath should be repeated to themselves.

This tendernesse and regret I find in my soul, for having had any hand (and that very unwillingly God knowes) in shedding one mans bloud unjustly, (though under the colour and formalities of Justice, and pretences of avoyding publick mischeifes) which may (I hope) be some evidence before God and Man, to all Posterity, that I am far from bearing justly the vast load & guilt of all that bloud which hath been shed in this unhappy Warre; which some men will needs charge on Me, to ease their own soules, who am, and ever shall be, more afraid to take away any mans life unjustly, then to lose my owne.

But thou, O God of infinite mercies, forgive me that act of sinfull compliance, which hath greater aggravations upon Me then any man. Since I had not the least temptation of envy, or malice against him, and by my place should, at least so farre, have been a preserver of him, as to have denied my consent to his destruction.

O Lord, I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.

Deliver me from bloud guiltinesse O God, thou God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousnesse.

Against thee have I sinned, and done this evill in thy sight, for thou sawest the contradiction between my heart and my hand.

Yet cast me not away from thy presence, purgeA removal of something, in biological terms often of something from the body, or in political terms an often violent removal of a group of people. me with the blood of my Redeemer, and I shall be clean; wash me with that pretious effusion, and I shall be whiter then snow.

Teach me to learn Righteousnesse by thy Judgments, and to see my frailty in thy Justice: while I was perswaded by shedding one mans bloud to prevent after-troubles, thou hast for that, among other sinnes, brought upon me, and upon my Kingdomes, great, long, and heavy troubles.

Make me to prefer Justice, which is thy will, before all contrary clamours, which are but the discoveries of mans injurious will.

It is too much that they have once overcome me, to please them by displeasing thee: O never suffer me for any reason of State, to goe against my Reason of Conscience, which is highly to sinne against thee, the God of Reason, and Judge of our Consciences.

What ever, O Lord, thou seest fit to deprive me of, yet restore unto me the joy of thy Salvation, and ever uphold me with thy free Spirit; which subjects my will to none, but thy light of Reason, Justice, and Religion, which shines in my Soul, for Thou desirest Truth in the inward parts, and Integrity in the outward expressions.

Lord hear the voice of thy Sons, and my Saviours Bloud, which speaks better things; of make me, and my People, to hear the voyce and Joy and Gladnesse, that the bones which thou hast broken, may rejoyce in thy salvation.