He proved himself at once the subtlest of diplomatists and the grandest of demagogues. He was equally at home in tracking the subtle intricacies of royalist intrigues, or in kindling popular passion with words of fire. Though past middle life when his work really began, for he was born in 1584, four years before the coming of the Armada, he displayed from the first meeting of the Long Parliament the qualities of a great administrator, an immense faculty for labour, a genius for organization, patience, tact, a power of inspiring confidence in all whom he touched, calmness and moderation under good fortune or ill, an immovable courage, an iron will. No English ruler has ever shown greater nobleness of natural temper or a wider capacity for government than the Somersetshire squire whom his enemies, made clear-sighted by their hate, greeted truly enough as "King Pym".
His ride over England with Hampden on the eve of the elections had been hardly needed, for the summons of a Parliament at once woke the kingdom to a fresh life. The Puritan emigration to New England was suddenly and utterly suspended; "the change," said Winthrop, "made all men to stay in England in expectation of a new world." The public discontent spoke from every Puritan pulpit, and expressed itself in a sudden burst of pamphlets, the first-fruits of the thirty thousand which were issued in the next twenty years, and which turned England at large into a school of political discussion. The resolute looks of the members as they gathered at Westminster contrasted with the hesitating words of the King, and each brought from borough or county a petition of grievances. Fresh petitions were brought every day by bands of citizens or farmers. Forty committees were appointed to examine and report on them, and their reports formed the grounds on which the Commons acted. Prynne and his fellow "martyrs," recalled from their prisons, entered London in triumph amidst the shouts of a great multitude who strewed laurel in their path. The Commons dealt roughly with the agents of the royal system.
In every county a list of "delinquents," or officers who had carried out the plans of the government, was ordered to be prepared and laid before the House. But their first blow was struck at the leading ministers of the King. Even Laud was not the centre of so great and universal a hatred as the Earl of Strafford. Strafford's guilt was more than the guilt of a servile instrument of tyranny, it was the guilt of "that grand apostate to the Commonwealth who," in the terrible words which closed Lord Digby's invective, "must not expect to be pardoned in this world till he be despatched to the other." He was conscious of his danger, but Charles forced him to attend the Court; and with characteristic boldness he resolved to anticipate attack by accusing the Parliamentary leaders of a treasonable correspondence with the Scots. He was just laying his scheme before Charles when the news reached him that Pym was at the bar of the Lords with his impeachment for high treason. " With speed," writes an eye-witness, " he comes to the House: he calls rudely at the door," and, " with a proud glooming look, makes towards his place at the board-head. But at once many bid him void the House, so he is forced in confusion to go to the door till he was called." He was only recalled to hear his committal to the Tower. He was still resolute to retort the charge of treason on his foes, and " offered to speak, but was commanded to be gone without a word." The keeper of the Black Rod demanded his sword as he took him in charge. " This done, he makes through a number of people towards his coach, no man capping to him, before whom that morning the greatest of all England would have stood uncovered." The blow was quickly followed up.
Windebank, the Secretary of State, was charged with corrupt favouring of recusants, and escaped to France; Finch, the Lord Keeper, was impeached, and fled in terror over-sea. Laud himself was thrown into prison. The shadow of what was to come falls across the pages of his diary, and softens the hard temper of the man into a strange tenderness. "I stayed at Lambeth till the evening," writes the Archbishop, "to avoid the gaze of the people. I went to evening prayer in my chapel. The Psalms of the day and chapter fifty of Isaiah gave me great comfort. God make me worthy of it, and fit to receive it. As I went to my barge, hundreds of my poor neighbours stood there and prayed for my safety and return to my house. For which 1 bless God and them." Charles was forced to look helplessly on at the wreck of the royal system, for the Scotch army was still encamped in the north; and the Parliament, which saw in the presence of the Scots a security against its own dissolution, was in no hurry to vote the money necessary for their withdrawal. "We cannot do without them," Strode honestly confessed, " the Philistines are still too strong for us." One by one the lawless acts of Charles's government were undone.
Ship-money was declared illegal, the judgement in Hampden's case annulled, and one of the judges committed to prison. A statute declaring " the ancient right of the subjects of this kingdom that no subsidy, custom, impost, or any charge whatsoever, ought or may be laid or imposed upon any merchandize exported or imported by subjects, denizens, or aliens, without common consent in Parliament," put an end for ever to all pretensions to a right of arbitrary taxation on the part of the Crown. A Triennial Bill enforced the assembly of the Houses every three years, and bound the returning officers to proceed to election if the Royal writ failed to summon them. A Committee of Religion had been appointed to consider the question of Church Reform, and on its report the Commons passed a bill for the removal of bishops from the House of Lords.
The King made no sign of opposition. He was known to be resolute against the abolition of Episcopacy; but he announced no purpose of resisting the expulsion of the bishops from the Peers. Strafford's life he was determined to save; but he threw no obstacle in the way of his impeachment. The trial of the Earl began in Westminster Hall, and the whole of the House of Commons appeared to support it. The passion which the cause excited was seen in the loud cries of sympathy or hatred which burst from the crowded benches on either side. For fifteen days Strafford struggled with a remarkable courage and ingenuity against the list of charges, and melted his audience to tears by the pathos of his defence. But the trial was suddenly interrupted. Though tyranny and misgovernment had been conclusively proved against him, the technical proof of treason was weak. "The law of England," to use Hallam's words, "is silent as to conspiracies against itself," and treason by the Statute of Edward the Third was restricted to a levying of war against the King or a compassing of his death.