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FrRevol_301-350.indd 41 3/16/12 1:08 PM CHAPTER XIII Charles I and Louis XVI. Many persons have attributed the disasters of France to the weakness of the character of Louis XVI; and it has been continually repeated that his stooping to recognize the principles of liberty was one of the essential causes of the Revolution. It seems to me, then, a matter of curiosity to show to those who believe that in France, at this crisis, such or such a man would have sufficed to have prevented everything; or that the adoption of such or such a resolution would have arrested the progress ofevents; it seems, I say, a matter of curiosity to show them that the conduct of Charles I was, in all respects, the converse ofthat ofLouis XVI, and that, nevertheless, two opposite systems brought about the same catastrophe; so irresistible is the progress of revolutions caused by the opinion of the majority. James I, the father of Charles, said "that men might form an opinion on the conduct ofkings, since they freely allowed themselves to scrutinize the decrees of Providence; but that their power could no more be called in question than that of God." Charles I had been educated in these maxims ; and he regarded as a measure equally inconsistent with duty, and with policy, every concession made by the royal authority. Louis XVI, a hundred and fifty years later, was modified by the age in which he lived; the doctrine of passive obedience, which was still received in England in the time of Charles, was no longer maintained even by the clergy of France in 1789. The English Parliament had existed from time immemorial;1 and although it was not irrevocably decided that its consent was necessary for taxation, yet it was customary to ask its sanction. But as it granted subsidies for several years in anticipation, the King of England was not, as 1. In irs current form, only since 1529· .34l FrRevol_301-350.indd 42 3/16/12 1:08 PM PART III now, under the necessity of assembling it annually; and very frequently taxes were continued without having been renewed by the votes of the national representatives. The parliament, however, on all occasions, protested against this abuse; and upon this ground commenced the quarrel between the Commons and Charles I. He was reproached with two taxes which he levied without the assent ofthe nation. Irritated by this reproach, he ordered, in pursuance ofthe constitutional right vested in him, that the parliament should be dissolved; and twelve years2 elapsed before he called another, an interruption almost unparalleled in the history of England. The quarrel of Louis XVI began, like that of Charles I, by financial embarrassments ; and it is always these embarrassments that render kings dependent upon their people; but Louis XVI assembled the Estates General, which for nearly two centuries had been almost forgotten in France. Louis XIV had suppressed even the remonstrances of the Parlement of Paris, the only privilege left to that body, when he registered the bursal edicts. Henry VIII ofEngland had caused his proclamations to be received as laws. Thus, then, both Charles and Louis might consider themselves as inheriting unlimited power; but with this difference, that the people of England always relied, and with reason, upon the past to reclaim their rights, while the French demanded something entirely new, since the convocation ofthe Estates General was not prescribed by any law. Louis XVI, according to the constitution, or the nonconstitution, of France, was not under any obligation to assemble the Estates General; Charles I, in omitting for twelve years to convoke the English Parliament, violated privileges which had been long recognized. During the twelve-year suspension of the parliament under Charles, the Star Chamber,3 an irregular tribunal which executed the will of the English monarch, exercised every imaginable species ofrigor. Prynne was sentenced to lose his ears for having written, according to the tenets of the Puritans, against plays and against the hierarchy. Allison and Robins endured the same punishment because they expressed an opinion different 2. From 1629 to 1640. 3· The Star Chamber was the judiciary branch of the King's Council, which assumed an important role beginning with 1487 and met in a special room of Westminster Palace with a star-painted ceiling. It was abolished in 1647. 342 FrRevol_301-350.indd 43 3/16/12 1:08 PM CHAPTER XIII. Charles I andLouis XVI from that ofthe Archbishop ofYork...


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