Anarchy and Hierarchy, by A. Griscom


Pamphlets' political posturings become a call to arms

Many of the pamphlet responses exhibited a fear of the new media by attacking the very rise of scandalous pamphlets. Charles I, himself, was known for authoring pamphlets in response to various charges, and lamenting the noxious anarchy of expression. The king responded defiantly in a broadside to charges that he was complicit in the Irish Rebellion:

Whereas diverse, lewd and wicked persons have of late risen in rebellion in our kingdom of Ireland... robbed and spoiled many thousands of our good subjects of the British nation, and Protestants... massacred multitudes of them, imprisoned many others... [we Royalists] hereby not only declare our just indignation thereof, but also declare them and all their adherents... to be rebels and traitors against our royal person, and enemies to our royal crown of England and Ireland. (EP 172)

Similarly, in a December 14 speech which was summarized in pamphlet form, Charles claimed "of all rebellion I hate that of the popish faction." He also blamed the House of Lords for not expediting a bill that would create an army to combat the rebels, a blatant attempt to deflect heat away from himself and onto the Parliament.

The fiery rhetoric of most pamphlets encouraged and exacerbated stereotypes which contributed to the mounting stratification between Royalists and Parliamentarians. Pamphleteers often blindly chose sides according to whether they assumed Catholicism was a greater threat to England (and thus opposed King Charles) or that Puritanism as the greater evil (and thus supported King Charles). However radical the sentiments of the pamphleteers seemed, however, they never openly acknowledged the possibility of war.

The breakdown of the nation into diametrically opposed sides was precipitated not by the rush of events in 1642, but by the media participation --- its exaggerated construction of events and sentiments. Both sides steadily began to encourage propagandistic participation as conflict matured. The crises immediately preceding the war were not necessarily any more serious than the crises a year earlier. The media portrayed the nation as fundamentally divided into sides, and portrayed the sides with vicious stereotypes that eventually found their way into the minds of the public. Crises which could have been diffused, therefore, were seen as far more critical than they needed to be, and compromise thus proved impossible. Perhaps a peaceful resolution would have prevailed if the interactive network discussed above had been more efficacious.

Despite the importance of religion in the crisis, when it came down to convincing the people to fight in a civil war, parliamentarian propagandists from above largely abandoned the religious issues and instead based their bellicose convictions on "the rule of law and ancient constitution" (World Turned 331) Fighting a civil war was treason---indeed, a despicable sin---and, regardless of ideological motivation, the people would not risk committing treason unless they knew the law was on their side. They were sufficiently convinced.

On January 30, 1649, more than eight years after the first meeting of the Long Parliament and nearly three years after the first defeat of the Royalist armies, King Charles I was executed for treason. Even though two months later the office of king was itself officially abolished, having been found "by experience" to be "unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety, and public interest of the people" (Richardson 148) --- Cromwell replaced Charles as the uppermost political authority. Charles accepted his fate gracefully: before going to the scaffold on that cold January day, he asked for an extra shirt so that no one would thing he had shivered on fear.

Many of the "people" in whose name Charles was executed were far from in agreement with the Parliamentary officials and soldiers who had decided the king must die (perhaps swayed by his gallant display of pride). As S.R. Gardiner tells us in The History of the Great Civil War 1642-1649, at the moment the executioner's ax fell, a groan rose from the assembled crowd. Within days, pamphlets, ballads, and broadsides began to appear, eulogizing the king and condemning those who had decapitated him. Pictures of Charles I became icons, littering hundreds of pamphlets and boosting their sales. The most famous Royalist tract of all, Eikon Basilike, went through dozens of editions in the eleven years between the king's execution and the restoration of his son, Charles II.

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