Shouts of assent greeted the resolution to insert the Duke's name in their Remonstrance. But at this moment Charles gave way. To win supplies for a new expedition to Rochelle, Buckingham bent the King to consent to the Petition of Right. As Charles understood it, indeed, the consent meant little. The point for which he really cared was the power of keeping men in prison without bringing them to trial or assigning causes for their imprisonment. On this he had consulted his judges; and they had answered that his consent to the Petition left his rights untouched; like other laws, they said, the Petition would have to be interpreted when it came before them, and the prerogative remained unaffected. As to the rest, while waiving all claim to levy taxes not granted by Parliament, Charles still reserved his right to levy impositions paid customarily to the Crown, and amongst these he counted tonnage and poundage. Of these reserves however the Commons knew nothing. The King's consent won agrant of subsidy from the Parliament, and such a ringing of bells and lighting of bonfires from the people "as were never seen but upon his majesty's return from Spain." But, like all Charles's concessions, it came too late to effect the end at which he aimed.
The Commons persisted in presenting their Remonstrance. Charles received it coldly and ungraciously; while Buckingham, who had stood defiantly at his master's side as he was denounced, fell on his knees to speak. "No, George! " said the King as he raised him; and his demeanour gave emphatic proof that the Duke's favour remained undiminished. "We will perish together, George," he added at a later time, "if thou dost." No shadow of his doom, in fact, had fallen over the brilliant favourite, when, after the prorogation of the Parliament, he set out to take command of a new expedition for the relief of Rochelle. But a lieutenant in the army, John Felton, soured by neglect and wrongs, had found in the Remonstrance some fancied sanction for the revenge he plotted; and, mixing with the throng which crowded the hall at Portsmouth, he stabbed Buckingham to the heart. Charles flung himself on his bed in a passion of tears when the news reached him; but outside the Court it was welcomed with a burst of joy. Young Oxford bachelors, grave London aldermen, vied with each other in drinking healths to Felton. "God bless thee, little David," cried an old woman, as the murderer passed manacled by; "the Lord comfort thee," shouted the crowd, as the Tower gates closed on him.
The very crews of the Duke's armament at Portsmouth shouted to the King, as he witnessed their departure, a prayer that he would " spare John Felton, their sometime fellow soldier." But whatever national hopes the fall of Buckingham had aroused were quickly dispelled. Weston, a creature of the Duke, became Lord Treasurer, and his system remained unchanged. " Though our Achan is cut off," said Eliot, "the accursed thing remains".
It seemed as if no act of Charles could widen the breach which his reckless lawlessness had made between himself and his subjects. But there was one thing dearer to England than free speech in Parliament, than security for property, or even personal liberty; and that one thing was, in the phrase of the day," the Gospel." The gloom which at the outset of this reign we saw settling down on every Puritan heart had deepened with each succeeding year. The great struggle abroad had gone more and more against Protestantism, and at this moment the end of the cause seemed to have come. In Germany Lutheran and Calvinist alike lay at last beneath the heel of the Catholic House of Austria. The fall of Rochelle after Buckingham's death seemed to leave the Huguenots of France at the feet of a Roman Cardinal. While England was thrilling with excitement at the thought that her own hour of deadly peril might come again, as it had come in the year of the Armada, Charles raised Laud to the Bishopric of London, and entrusted him with the direction of ecclesiastical affairs. To the excited Protestantism of the country, Laud and the Churchmen whom he headed seemed a danger really more formidable than the Popery which was making such mighty strides abroad.
To the Puritans they were traitors to God and their country at once. Their aim was to draw the Church of England farther away from the Protestant Churches and nearer to the Church which Protestants regarded as Babylon. They aped Roman ceremonies. Cautiously and tentatively they were introducing Roman doctrine. But they had none of the sacerdotal independence which Rome had at any rate preserved. They were abject in their dependence on the Crown. Their gratitude for the royal protection which enabled them to defy the religious instincts of the realm showed itself in their erection of the most dangerous pretensions of the monarchy into religious dogmas. Archbishop Whitgift declared James to have been inspired by God. They preached passive obedience to the worst tyranny. They declared the person and goods of the subject to be at the King's absolute disposal. They were turning religion into a systematic attack on English liberty. Up to this time they had been little more than a knot of courtly ecclesiastics, for the mass of the clergy, like their flocks, were steady Puritans; but the energy of Laud, and the patronage of the Court, promised a speedy increase of their numbers and their power.
Sober men looked forward to a day when every pulpit would be ringing with exhortations to passive obedience, with denunciations of Calvinism and apologies for Rome. Of all the members of the House of Commons Eliot was least fanatical in his natural bent, but the religious crisis swept away for the moment all other thoughts from his mind. "Danger enlarges itself in so great a measure," he wrote from the country, "that nothing but Heaven shrouds us from despair." The House met in the same temper. The first business called up was that of religion. "The Gospel," Eliot burst forth, "is that Truth in which this kingdom has been happy through a long and rare prosperity. This ground, therefore, let us lay for a foundation of our building, that that Truth, not with words, but with actions we will maintain!" " There is a ceremony," he went on, " used in the Eastern Churches, of standing at the repetition of the Creed, to testify their purpose to maintain it, not only with their bodies upright, but with their swords drawn. Give me leave to call that a custom very commendable!" The Commons answered their leader's challenge by a solemn avowal.
They avowed that they held for truth that sense of the Articles as established by Parliament, which by the public act of the Church, and the general and current exposition of the writers of their Church, had been delivered unto them. But the debates over religion were suddenly interrupted. The Commons, who had deferred all grant of customs till the wrong done in the illegal levy of them was redressed, had summoned the farmers of those dues to the bar; but though they appeared, they pleaded the King's command as a ground for their refusal to answer. The House was proceeding to a protest, when the Speaker signified that he had received an order to adjourn. Dissolution was clearly at hand, and the long-suppressed indignation broke out in a scene of strange disorder. The Speaker was held down in the chair, while Eliot, still clinging to his great principle of ministerial responsibility, denounced the new Treasurer as the adviser of the measure. "None have gone about to break Parliaments," he added in words to which after events gave a terrible significance, "but in the end Parliaments have broken them." The doors were locked, and in spite of the Speakers protests, of the repeated knocking of the usher at the door, and of the gathering tumult within the House itself, the loud "Aye, Aye " of the bulk of the members supported Eliot in his last vindication of English liberty.
By successive resolutions the Commons declared whomsoever should bring in innovations in religion, or whatever minister endorsed the levy of subsidies not granted in Parliament, "a capital enemy to the kingdom and commonwealth," and every subject voluntarily complying with illegal acts and demands "a betrayer of the liberty of England and an enemy of the same".